Friday, January 22, 2021

‘Starboy’ ties old sound with new concepts

Abel Tesfaye has already, at the age 26, left a lasting impression on radio. The Grammy winning, Oscar nominated artist known as The Weeknd has reigned over pop stations for the past five years. On his sixth album, “Starboy,” The Weeknd retreads similar themes to varied success.

On “House of Balloons,” released in March 2011, Tesfaye impressed many with his dark R&B sound with debaucherous lust-filled lyrics and his lush falsetto. The Weeknd canned all interviews, allowing a self-run blog with photos and the music speak for itself. This all feels like ages ago, as today, The Weeknd has become a household name in the music industry.

“Beauty Behind the Madness” soared to celestial heights, charting three singles on Billboard and earning him Grammy wins and Oscar nominations.

The new album’s follow-up was preceded by its title track and accompanying music video in which The Weeknd is killed and reborn, sheared of his familiar chicken-comb hairstyle. The song, produced by Daft Punk, was sleek and signaled a new direction filled with edgier radio hits with sleek ’80s production. Starboy, which runs over an hour and was accompanied by a 12-minute short film, is a lot to grip. If the motif of “Beauty Behind the Madness” was about Tesfaye grappling with his newfound fame, “Starboy” is a rollercoaster ride about letting fame turn you into a monster. The album’s first half fits into his discography of rollercoaster rides of lurid sexual behaviors. The biggest risk is the punk-inspired “False Alarm,” where Tesfaye chooses to scream the chorus. The previous Max Martin party songs have been swapped for Daft Punk produced bangers with synths and a subdued bass. The second half is more experimental.

Overall, the album is never a failure and succeeds in its quest to tackle a number of genres. The album overall carries an ’80s rock vibe but only hastily before switching to the next sound. There’s the slowed down disco song, “I Feel It Coming;” the Prince-inspired ballad, “Die For You;” the R. Kelly rendition, “True Colors” and the Chicago-House beat “Secrets.”

Starboy sneakily acts as a concept album about finding and falling for the similarly icy Stargirl. After Tesfaye meets his prize, embodied here by singer Lana Del Rey in songs like “Stargirl Interlude,” he softens and the album’s second half is littered with twinkling love songs.

The problem is, The Weeknd may have lost the creative direction and restrained approached that made his music infectiously listenable. “Starboy” recycles The Weeknd’s formula of upbeat melodies and braggadocious lyrics and has too many attempts at what a generic ’80s album should sound like.

3.5 stars out of 5

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