Out of all the pop stars who have risen to major mainstream success in the past couple of years, The Weeknd to me seemed like the most unlikely. I mean, if you really look at the type of music he makes, I’m always sort of surprised that the general public has embraced this guy in the way they have. The Weeknd makes dark, filthy music, with lyrics about drugs, depression, emotionally disconnected sex, and all sorts of other sordid topics. Hell, last year’s “The Hills” is probably the nastiest sounding song that has ever hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, what with the distorted vocals, crushingly brickwalled mix, and most of all that horrifying screaming sound effect that keeps playing. But that was all a year ago, and The Weekend has returned just over a year later with a new album, entitled Starboy. And, before I get into the content of this album, I need to address something that’s come up with several albums I’ve talked about recently.
This album is too long. At just under sixty-nine minutes, there are about five or six tracks on this that could be cut out completely, and the album would be infinitely better for it. The same thing happened with the new Metallica album a couple of weeks ago. Something that artists seem to not be thinking about as much is the quality of the album as a whole, and as a sequence that flows well. I always preach that the perfect length for an album is on the spectrum of thirty-five to forty-five minutes, and that only the sharpest, most focused songwriters can stretch things beyond that. There are few things more tedious to me than an eighteen song album, especially when it’s an album this moody and low key. And before it sounds like I’m ripping on this, there are definitely some fantastic tracks on Starboy, but I maintain that editing and quality control are still vital parts of any artistic statement.
With that out of the way, I can get more into the guts of this record, and, even at first listen, I can tell that this is a very different type of album from 2015’s Beauty Behind The Madness. That album was definitely dark, but Starboy takes it to a different level. This is an album with a mood that is chained to it’s sound and lyrics. From the very first track, the vibe here is quite dour. The song for which the album is named,“Starboy”, is strikingly different from the type of singles that The Weeknd was releasing just a year ago. But in that it is a really great example of what the record does well. Its hypnotic Daft Punk produced beat really drives the minimalist melodies forward, and is sort of the template for many of the songs on the record, moody and tentative. The whole thing has an uncomfortable energy that seems always on the edge of freaking out, but, with a few notable exceptions, it never really does. Despite how big of a single the title track is, I wouldn’t describe it as a banger by any stretch of the imagination. The second single, “False Alarm” and album cut “Love To Lay”, are really the only songs I would describe as decidedly upbeat; the rest is all very floaty and ethereal, and in several instances the record comes right up to the edge of floating off into its own ambience, a problem that his previous album didn’t have as much.
I think that, again, this problem in variety comes down to the length of the record. On a shorter album, the hills and valleys in feel and dynamics would are perceived as more significant to the whole, but on a record with eighteen tracks, those moments feel more like blips than actual peaks, and some of these other tracks feel pretty unnecessary upon further scrutiny, especially “Stargirl Interlude”, a song just under two minutes featuring Lana Del Rey sounding even sleepier than usual. Seriously, this sounds like an unfinished demo from Born To Die. Other than that, most of the features on the album are pretty tasteful, and despite my general dislike of Future, he actually fits pretty well into the several tracks he appears on.
Now I gotta be honest, I was pretty bummed out with this release. The first couple of singles from this had me legitimately excited for this, but I sort of have to chock this up as another casualty of bloat, something that lately has plagued a lot of artists that I really like. But beyond my disappointment with the album as a whole, the good tracks here are pretty excellent. Just throw them into a playlist I guess. The rest… you can take or leave as you please.
-I Feel It Coming