Starboy (released November 25, 2016)
Despite massive success and tons of acclaim, it seems as if The Weeknd is at a career crossroads.
Long gone is the moody maestro behind the fantastic House of Balloons mixtape. Most of his peers are still trying to emulate a style he popularized half a decade ago. Instead of looking back he has moved forward, infusing his dreary music with pop stylings and becoming an international superstar.
And now we reach the next stage of Abél Tesfaye’s evolution – chopping off his weird broccoli locks (FINALLY) and embracing yet another new sound, one that harkens back to the energetic fare of the ’80s.
In theory, it’s a great move. It’s the execution that needs work.
The centerpiece of Starboy, Weeknd’s third studio album, is the title track, and it immediately makes a mark. Weeknd finds a cool kinship with Daft Punk, crafting an ’80s themed party-starter with just enough edge to keep it from drifting into self-parody. The album closer “I Feel It Coming” is just as fun.
But this isn’t a kinder, gentler Weeknd, he’s the same paranoid weirdo we’ve known for years. “Party Monster” keeps us in the Reagan Era, though the mood shifts from the earlier upbeat single, with dark synths detailing Weeknd’s escapades of waking up to strange women. Those themes bleed the next track, “Reminder,” where Weeknd wearily says “I just won an award from a kid’s show” and reminds his listeners that’s not a role model. You know, in case you missed all those drug and sex references. The track is an offshoot of last year’s “Tell Your Friends,” and presented with the same stream-of-consciousness delivery.
While the first quarter of Starboy is relatively tight and focused, things get off track pretty quickly. “Rockin” and “False Alarm” continue the 80s theme but are hindered by Weeknd’s notoriously weak vocals on the former and irritating production on the latter. But from there, Weeknd abandons the throwback 80s feel and starts to jump all over the map.
“Secrets” is a pop-friendly track cut from the top 40 playlist cloth, while “Six Feet Under” is the typical menacing cut that’s a dime a dozen on hip-hop stations. Future shows up on that one, of course, and again on “All I Know,” mangling the song with his mush-mouthed Autobot act. I REALLY need y’all to get over your obsession with this guy by 2017. Weeknd switches gears AGAIN for “True Colors,” which sounds a bit more in the vein of R&B, then goes the funk route with “A Lonely Night.” It makes for a very schizophrenic listen.
That’s Starboy’s biggest struggle – there are so many tracks and so many conflicting musical styles here that the album can’t maintain a consistent pace. For instance, fans of Beauty Behind the Madness-era Weeknd likely will embrace tracks like “Attention” and Ordinary Life” but they don’t stand out in the overall scope of the album. You have to dig through so much stuff to get to them.
Compare it to Bruno Mars’ recent album: At 9 tracks and barely 30 minutes, that set was tight, consistent and had me begging for more. But with Starboy’s 18 tracks and 70 minutes, there’s almost too much too consume in one sitting. There’s more filler here than a jelly doughnut.
Pacing aside, Starboy has its share of enjoyable tracks that we’ll be hearing well into 2017. But man, this album’s new year’s resolution should have been to trim some of its fat.
Best tracks: “Starboy,” “Reminder,” “Party Monster”
3 stars out of 5