My Dear Melancholy, is a somewhat-successful return to The Weeknd's roots.
This post originally appeared on DEVISE Magazine.
Abel Tesfaye would like himself back, please. The Weeknd has always been a “Damn, who hurt you?” kind of artist, his earliest work positively drenched in as much atmospheric regret and self-loathing as the then-anonymous upstart and his scrappy team of Toronto-based producers could dial up at the time. Success is a funny thing, though, especially in its ability to impact the work of a songwriter whose primary emotional drive was always want. It’s not difficult to map Tesfaye’s emotional trajectory throughout the course of his post-mixtape career, either, especially in the context of how it impacts his work.
Kiss Land was The Weeknd’s first foray into major label territory, bringing his pop sensibilities a bit more to the forefront while still retaining the inventive production and confident songwriting that made the Trilogy mixtapes as special as they were. Beauty Behind the Madnesspushed Tesfaye further into more decadent production, and Starboy‘s Daft Punk-aided widescreen pop stylings made it clear that The Weeknd was now something significantly different than from what it had been at its outset. Tesfaye was still primarily interested in exploring his more melancholic and self-destructive emotional tendencies, but by late 2016 he had clearly learned to have a hell of a great time singing about all the depressing shit he could think to put himself through.
All of this gives My Dear Melancholy, an interesting place in The Weeknd’s oeuvre. It’s ostensibly a palate-cleanser — something of a clear attempt at reconnection with the sound that gave Tesfaye his start to begin with — but it finds the artist (and his impressive guest list) struggling to shed the skin he’s grown over the course of the last seven years or so.
It’s telling that the first standout moment of My Dear Melancholy, doesn’t come until just about the halfway mark. The Skrillex-aided two-step of “Wasted Time” is distinctive and fresh for The Weeknd (the UK Garage sound suits Tesfaye so well one wonders why he hasn’t utilized it more — who wouldn’t want a Burial-produced Weeknd track?), and its delightfully cascading vocal hook carves out the project’s most earwormy moment by a landslide. Opening tracks “Call Out My Name” and “Try Me,” on the other hand, are inoffensive in their overlookability but also refuse to come to any interesting conclusions. Tesfaye feels typically betrayed, but aside from some more self-reflective lines in “Call Out My Name,” his songwriting is defensive and accusatory in a way that is perhaps intentionally revealing.
Darkwave mainstay Gesaffelstein guests on “I Was Never There” and “Hurt You,” and the latter track pairs his maximalist tendencies nicely with guest production courtesy of Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo. The track veers closest to Starboy‘s more kinetic overproduction, but still manages to stay restrained enough and keeps the focus on Tesfaye’s impressive vocal performance without dipping into outright gloss. Project-closer “Privilege” is easily the most nostalgic piece present, soaked in atmosphere and dripping with reverb. It sounds the most like a House of Balloons-era cut, all warbling piano and depressive vocals, and closes out the EP on an appropriately authentic note.
Tesfaye’s ability to deliver a next-level vocal performance continues to make The Weeknd listenable even when it’s not particularly impressive (as is the case with those first two tracks). My Beautiful Melancholy, might be the most enjoyable Weeknd release in a while, more cohesive than its predecessors even it’s a little uneven in terms of its quality. Either way, it’s nice to see Tesfaye reaching back to some of his older tendencies. After Starboy and Beauty Behind the Madness, the effort certainly counts for something.