Abel Tesfaye a.k.a The Weeknd emerged on the R&B scene in 2011 with a trilogy of nine-track mixtapes. His work was critically acclaimed for his Michael Jackson-esque vocals, dark lyrics, and atmospheric sound. Tesfaye lives in a world of promiscuous women, lost love, and nights in the club. Every song sounded like the brink of total self-destruction. The mixtapes were considered the next direction in R&B along with the debuts of Frank Ocean and Miguel.
Kiss Land, The Weeknd’s first official album, fails to innovate or match his 2011 debuts. The problem is that the sound and content hasn’t changed at all, Tesfaye still feels hollow, still does drugs, and still can’t connect with people. It is evident through Kiss Land that The Weeknd can’t handle his rise to fame, which parallels frequent collaborator Drake’s album, Take Care, which Tesfaye wrote and sang on. The album feels dated to his previous work and collaborations. The edge from the pains of fame has dulled.
This is not to say that Kiss Land is an entirely bad album; it just fails to have any true excitement to it. Like the artist himself, the music feels entirely unimpressed by itself. Tesfaye doesn’t claim to feel much of anything anymore, and the songs reflect that. He is surrounded by people but is still alone, and nothing can break this hollowness. It is as though Tesfaye reached fame and is asking himself, “Is this it?”
One of the standouts of Kiss Land is “Wanderlust,” which is a disco-style departure from the doom and gloom of the rest of the album. It’s a dance song where Tesfaye’s vocals fit perfectly. He tries again to shake things up with “Live For,” a crew-loving party track with the album’s only feature from Drake. It feels uncomfortable that Tesfaye is celebrating the same rewards of fame of which he so commonly whines, yet the song is so uplifting and different that it’s more exciting than where he sticks to his guns.
Lyrically, the album is unimpressive; The Weeknd showed off better songwriting on his debut mixtapes. Sonically, he rarely tries to move away from his original sound; when he does, he ventures slightly into the disco sound similar to the latest Daft Punk album and the glitchiness of Kanye West’s Yeezus. Despite mediocre lyrics, Tesafaye still delivers emotional vocals. Overall, Kiss Land fails to impress the way Trilogy did. If you are looking for a solid R&B album, last year’s offerings from Frank Ocean and Miguel are the ways to go.