I don’t remember ever feeling trolled as a Rainer Maria Rilke fan by a major pop artist’s album before. But that’s what happened when I spotted the title “Every Angel Is Terrifying”, a famous line by the revered German poet of the early 20th century. Duino Elegies, in the tracklist of The Weeknd’s new album, Dawn FM. Using a surprise exit strategy that seems almost out of fashion now, the artist only confirmed the existence of the first high-profile record of 2022 earlier this week, days before it appeared on the services of streaming at midnight Friday.
But that late hour still seems like a fitting time to hear from Abel Tesfaye, the Canadian pop-R & B bard of desperate and debauchery nightly indulgences and anxieties. This is particularly the case for Dawn FM, which is featured as a show from a supernatural DJ’d radio station by All People Jim Carrey (Tesfaye’s Canadian compatriot, childhood hero and current neighbor of LA), as the listener walks through the darkness into the proverbial light of the afterlife on these beats heavily influenced by 1980s synthpop.
O and the night, the night, when the wind full of space-world /
gnaws our faces – for who has won‘may there be night /
desired, gently disappointing, fixing difficult tasks /
for the single heart.
The track above quoting Rilke, the 12th of 16 on the album, turns out to be kind of a sham – it opens with a few spoken lines from the poet’s classic “First Elegy” (including the first one above , but not the rest), before moving on to a fake radio commercial for the afterlife, which is itself a very 1980s movement, with its high-low sound collage style, remixing culture. All the vanity of the radio station ultimately has very little to do with the individual songs on Dawn FM. Still, it’s part of a conceptual bent one might not expect from a pop singer whose previous album, After hours, included several big hits, among which the best-selling song of 2020, “Blinding Lights”. (In fact, last November Billboard said so the best Hot 100 song of all time,.) Tesfaye nurtures ambitions as an author filmmaker – he had a small role in Uncut Gems and now has a cable series in development with HBO, about a nightclub-based cult leader – and these fantastic settings have long been a part of his creative process. The long promotional cycle of After hours, which peaked with last year’s Super Bowl halftime show, constantly featured him wearing a shimmering red blazer and makeup suggesting injury from a car crash and / or plastic surgery.
Remember: the hero lives, even his fall /
was only a pretext for the existence reached: his ultimate birth.
You would have to be a bigger fan of Weeknd than me to have followed this tale, which remains true of the new on Dawn FM. But you don’t have to understand the story to appreciate the tunes: it’s just a new set of extremely eye-catching sagas, ‘I Almost Died at the Disco’ (as he sings on ‘Don’ t Break My Heart â) of mortal or moral danger and grief from the Weeknd. This time around, however, there’s more stress on her tender side, sometimes with Tesfaye’s love objects even emerging as individuals with some degree of agency.
This softening might just be a pandemic pivot – he told interviewers he ditched an earlier version of the album that was too “Emotionally damaging” for the moment. The first single, “Take My Breath”, released last summer, played with fantasies of erotic suffocation that seemed less exciting amid a global pandemic of respiratory disease. While the track appears on Dawn FM in a more alluring extended version, none of the other songs flirt with such dark imagery.
And so I grab hold and choke that call note /
of black sobs.
However, the change – which goes as far as declaring desires for fidelity and monogamy in “I Heard You’re Married” – could also mark a progressive evolution of the personality of the Weeknd, whose dark, dysfunctional antics are less and less tied to the real-life, moderate and hard-working real-life Abel, now in his thirties.
… cease to be what we were in constantly anxious hands /
and ignore even one‘his own name as a broken toy.
The radio station’s vanity enhances the album’s nostalgic feel in one step, much like an early 2010s mixtape concept did for last year’s Tyler, the Creator album; Tyler invited here (somewhat forgettable) on the very yacht-rock track, âHere We Goâ¦ Againâ. Perhaps most valuable, the format gives Tesfaye and his producers – primarily longtime collaborator Max Martin and more recent companion Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never) – greater license to satisfy their sonic instincts back. , as well as to transition seamlessly, just like a DJ. , between the tracks. The sudden, always belated realization that the previous song is already over and a new one has started causes a pleasantly surprised thrill, almost as one would expect from the transition from one plane of reality to another.
The Eternal Current /
sweeps with him all ages across the two realms /
forever and drowns their voices in both.
Tesfaye’s singing voice, heavily influenced by her Ethiopian-Canadian roots, has often been referred to as angelic. But I’m not sure we’ve heard it in so many contrasting modes before; As well as performing his iconic Michael Jackson style to cutting edge levels on songs like “Sacrifice” and “Out of Time”, he sets an unlikely and delicious Depeche Mode / Pet Shop Boys English accent on “Gasoline”. And he finds a tone between his standard sexual choir boy vocals and a pop-rock delivery to suit perhaps the simplest and most effective evocation of the 1980s synth-pop album, ” Less Than Zero “, its track taken from Bret Easton’s iconic Ellis Roman on 1980s cocaine. The pattern varies just enough over the course of the album to avoid becoming as numbing as that white powder (as celebrated in the Weeknd’s 2015 hit âCan’t Feel My Faceâ), thanks to Lopatin’s unpredictable synth scribbles and helpers from Swedish House Mafia, who gives âSacrificeâ its own distinctive club pulse.
Voices, voices. Listen, sweetheart, the way /
only the saints have listened so far, like this vast call /
lifted them off the groundâ¦. listeners fully absorbed.
That the songs of Dawn FM will come close to the levels of commercial success of “Blinding Lights” seems doubtful to me. The Weeknd is now part of the cohort of Millennial stars put aside by Generation Z, and it doesn’t seem promising that the dated cachet of chart king Max Martin is still so evident here and that (partly because of the result) the songs are still so much in debt with a 1980s shine that is quickly replaced by new ones. nostalgia (for example, for the more glitchy emo, indie and cyber-pop sounds of the mid-2000s). The groove of the album as a whole and the gentle confidence with which Tesfaye brings the songs across make it an immensely listenable record, but it’s not a milestone. In reality, Dawn FM seems to be more of a step towards something else, which might even turn out to be a gradual exit from music as the primary creative outlet for Tesfaye. In this way, both the idea of ââthe highway radio in Heaven and the allusion to Rilke’s “First Elegy” (which I guess the movie buff Tesfaye may have picked up from Wim Wenders Wings of desire) may not lag behind at all, but unexpectedly: Dawn FM may seem in retrospect like the moment when, like the existentially unembedded spirits in Rilke’s poem, the Weeknd as we know him died but has yet to realize it.
Is this a story told in vainâ¦ /
in which a daring first music pierced the shell of numbness: /
Stunned space, including an almost divine youth /
was suddenly gone forever; then, in this void, vibrationsâ /
who for us now are rapture, consolation and help.
That said, Dawn FM commits an unforgivable crime against poetry. This is the last track written and performed by Carrey, “Phantom Regret by Jim”, in which the Grumpy the star (and possible future frontman of Dr. Seuss’ biopic) sends the album off with a bunch of Hollywood psycho-spiritual babble, rhymed with grimace in a sloppy take Seuss anapestic tetrameter. If you can take it more than once, you are stronger than me. I give the same advice about this album as if you were really in a vehicle speeding towards the border between life and death: Oh dear friends, for your sake / Make sure you jump / Far from this trip / Before this last stop!