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'Beauty Behind The Madness' By The Weeknd: Album Review

Nathan Desai |
September 3, 2015 | 7:21 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

We can't resist The Weeknd (via @WikiCommons)
We can't resist The Weeknd (via @WikiCommons)
Known for his melancholic lyrics, seductive voice and uncontainable hair, Canadian vocalist Abel Tesfaye — more commonly known as The Weeknd — first entered the public eye with his colossal compilation album “Trilogy” in 2012. The 30-song collection had a runtime of 160 minutes, yet it still left listeners wanting more.

Ever since “Trilogy” went platinum in 2013, The Weeknd’s career has been rising faster than a house of balloons and he has especially skyrocketed recently with three top-five singles in just this year alone. In fact, The Weeknd has been featured in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 for the past six months straight. And his reign is still ongoing as “Can’t Feel My Face” currently tops the chart while “The Hills” sits just three spots behind.

So it should come as no surprise that his latest project — titled “Beauty Behind the Madness” — was one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year. And with each of its 14 songs, the album reminds audiences of the dark tone that made The Weeknd an R&B star while incorporating the catchy beats that have made him one of the biggest names in the music industry today.

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The album kicks off with “Real Life” which serves as a fair introduction to the tone of the album. In the opening verse Tesfaye announces that “Beauty Behind the Madness” wasn’t made for the bedroom (“Tell ‘em this boy wasn’t meant for lovin’”), but he is still the same artist that he always has been (“I’ll be the same, never changed for nothin’”) despite his newfound fame. The song itself is a perfect representation of his evolving style as he sings about women — as you’d expect — but the track’s intro is loud and sharp. (Be careful if you’re listening with headphones.)

While “Real Life” rocks and rolls, the following song — “Losers” — exchanges the previous track’s guitar for a plethora of brass instruments as well as a piano in order to emulate jazz and the blues, which makes for a stellar instrumental outro. The final minute of the song also complements both The Weeknd and Labrinth — who delivers a soothing verse as the album’s first featured artist — with passion to match the former and soul to match the latter.

“Tell Your Friends” also has a very distinct tone that is often associated with one particular artist. So if you’re wondering why this song gives you Kanye West vibes, that’s because the 2020 presidential candidate was one of the track’s producers and writers. The beat during the first half of the song feels like something straight out of “Yeezus” while the second half sounds like it belongs on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” The Weeknd does have the vocal range to make it work but this song is bound to be one of this album’s talking points due to West’s heavy influence. When it was announced that he would be working on this track, many assumed West would also feature on the song and though he doesn’t appear on this version, it would not be surprising to see The Weeknd re-release “Tell Your Friends” with a verse from the popular rapper. If that happens, this song is all but guaranteed to become a smash hit.

One song that has already been the subject of considerable conversation is “Often" which was The Weeknd’s first single from “Beauty Behind the Madness.” The single is a vintage The Weeknd song which — simply put — means it’s about sex. There’s something particularly peculiar about “Often” though and it’s that it was originally released 13 months ago. Chronologically speaking, “Often” is closer to “Kiss Land” — The Weeknd’s previous album — than it is to “Beauty Behind the Madness.” Four of the album’s 14 songs have already been released as singles — none of them being any of the songs with featured artists — so it wouldn’t be implausible to see The Weeknd pull a Katy Perry and release over half the album as singles.

“The Hills” is the third single off the album and is currently in fourth on the Billboard Hot 100. It isn’t particularly catchy so it’s surprising to see that it has been dominating the airwaves. Many fans anticipated that “The Hills” would be the song that best encompassed the new album’s tone due to its similarities with the songs from “Trilogy.” However, “Beauty Behind the Madness” incorporates much more pop than “Trilogy” did and “The Hills” — much like many of the other songs on this album — allows The Weeknd to show off his versatility.

“Acquainted” is also a great demonstration of The Weeknd’s range, as the album version is extremely different than the leaked version from a few months ago. Not only did it undergo a significant title change (It was previously called “Girls Born in the 90s") but — aside from some preserved lyrics — “Acquainted” also sounds like an entirely new song. The debate about which version is superior has become a polarizing topic of conversation amongst fans of The Weeknd. “Acquainted” does have more complex songwriting though and it more closely matches the tone established by the rest of the album so it’s understandable why The Weeknd chose to rework it.

One song that The Weeknd undoubtedly has no plans of changing is “Can’t Feel My Face.” The hit single is the clear-cut song of the summer and is on track to become the song of the year. When Tom Cruise is lip syncing your song on “The Tonight Show,” it’s fair to say you created a masterpiece. Though it’s practically impossible to go a day without hearing the song, it is also the track most heavily criticized by longtime fans of The Weeknd. For years, The Weeknd built his reputation as an R&B singer, who used his incredible voice and creative songwriting to tell impactful stories of lust and addiction. Yet his big break was a pop song. To be fair, the song compares love to drug abuse so it is similar in subject matter to his other work but it is also by far the catchiest song he has ever made which is why many of his old fans can’t stand the incredibly popular song.

While “Can’t Feel My Face” is already a classic party song, it precedes a song that you are likely to never hear on the dance floor. “Shameless” is much slower than the previous song — which fans of The Weeknd will be elated to hear — but it speeds up with a phenomenal guitar solo near the end which may leave listeners strumming an imaginary chord or two while waiting for the chorus to kick in one last time. This track may not get the recognition some feel it deserves as it is sandwiched between some of the album’s most talked about songs but the lyrics and pace are very typical of The Weeknd even though some may find the guitar off-putting.

The Weeknd follows “Shameless” — a song about a toxic relationship  — with “Earned It” — a song made for “Fifty Shades of Grey.” In terms of the film’s soundtrack, The Weeknd was a perfect choice. (Unfortunately, his voice was not enough to keep the movie from bombing at the box office.) Its place on the album is questionable though. Sure, the song’s subject is right up The Weeknd’s alley, but “Earned It” lacks any sort of depth. It just sounds like someone asked him to write a song about sex and considering the reviews “Fifty Shades of Grey” got, I wouldn’t be surprised if that were actually the case. It is one of his most well-known songs though so it makes sense why he included it on the album but “Beauty Behind the Madness” probably would have been better off had he omitted it, like he did with “Devil May Cry” from “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” soundtrack.

Listeners who enjoyed “Can’t Feel My Face” will probably also like “In The Night” which is likely to be The Weeknd’s next huge hit single. Although the tune is one you may find yourself dancing along to, the subject matter is heavy as the song is about a girl who becomes a stripper after an extremely rough childhood. (“In the night she’s dancing to relieve the pain.”) So while “In The Night” has some of the darkest lyrics on “Beauty Behind the Madness”, it is also one of the catchiest tracks on the album thus masking the song’s true nature.

“As You Are,” on the other hand, has a tune that matches its lyrics as the song is about dishonest lovers and it gets slower as the song progresses. By the end of the song, The Weeknd is begging his significant other to stay with him and the decrease in the song’s speed mirrors the singer’s growing desperation. By no means is this a song you’ll end up singing in the shower but the outro is packed with emotion, which is exactly what you’d expect from an R&B star like The Weeknd.

The following song was one of the album’s most anticipated as two of biggest stars in music combined for the first time on “Dark Times.” Ed Sheeran and The Weeknd both have unique and distinct voices and though they are both fantastic on their own, Sheeran’s voice doesn’t match the album’s tone very well. Within the context of “Beauty Behind the Madness” this song seems out of place but on its own it’s a great collaboration. This is another song that will probably be released as a single, due to its standalone quality and the fact that it brings together two of the most popular artists in the world.

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Sheeran’s voice may not have been compatible with “Beauty Behind the Madness”, but Lana Del Rey — who features on “Prisoner” — delivers an impeccable performance that not only enhances the album but also the album. The transition from The Weeknd’s part to Del Rey’s is so smooth and his harmonies on her verse sound so natural. The brilliance of “Prisoners” as well as the presence of another music superstar will likely make this song one of the album’s classics and will hopefully lead to more collaborations between the two in the future. Would it at all be possible to get these two to make an entire album together?

The 14th and final song on “Beauty Behind the Madness” — titled “Angel” — is also the longest. It also features the fourth artist on the album. Maty Noyes was tasked with following Labrinth, Ed Sheeran and Lana Del Rey, closing out one of the most hyped albums of the year and singing with one of the most talented singers of this generation. Noyes is probably the biggest surprise of the album as she holds her own with The Weeknd yet there are only a handful of people who have even heard of her before. In fact, there are probably plenty of people who have listened to the whole album and still don’t know who she is because she isn’t even credited on the song. Her voice meshes well with The Weeknd’s and she holds her own in the album’s impassioned final song.

Throughout the album, The Weeknd explores the realms of both R&B and pop. So at times it feels like “Beauty Behind the Madness” is tonally confused as it’ll jump from a party song like “Can’t Feel My Face” to an emotional song like “Shameless.” Despite the discrepancies in pace and melody throughout the album, The Weeknd shines in all of the songs. And if you aren’t a fan of how he jumps from genre to genre throughout this album, just know that he warned you from the get-go that this album would be just like his hair: unpredictable yet elegant.

That’s just the beauty behind the madness.

Buy the album on iTunes here

Reach Staff Reporter Nathan Desai here



 

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