The Weeknd sometimes struggles on ‘Kiss Land’
Published: Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 08:09
When young artists surrounded by a great deal of hype see success, they will often stick to their original style for as long as possible. Even after his fifth album, The Weeknd’s music still includes his trademark sensual singing and electronic-inspired beats. His new album, “Kiss Land,” is an enjoyable display of this brand — a relaxed listen despite its anxious vocals. Although The Weeknd’s lyrics have recently begun to edge towards ridiculous, “Kiss Land” remains a solid play and a pleasant 55 minutes of his signature sound.
Abel Tesfaye began releasing music as The Weeknd in late 2010. His identity at first unknown, he attracted attention after uploading his music to YouTube. When he released his “House of Balloons” mixtape the following spring, the project garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews. The R&B singer employed musical techniques similar to those of the electronic artist Burial and rapper Captain Murphy and continued to generate hype through intrigue and mystery.
That mixtape, which featured drug-and-sex-riddled lyrics over slick, slow beats, was exceptionally popular with music blogs. An amalgam of electronic sounds and contemporary R&B comparable to Jeremih and Drake, “House of Balloons” had Pitchfork calling the album a “remarkably confident, often troubling debut that excels at both forward-thinking genre-smearing and good old-fashioned songcraft.”
The Weeknd sticks firmly to this formula on “Kiss Land,” singing about sex with a level of candor that would make most people cringe. On this album, however, the lyrics become self-mocking instead of effective. Whereas his uneasy crooning about nervous lovemaking was chill-inducing on older songs like “High for This,” the lyrics from the album’s title track sometimes come off like bad jokes.
It’s not that this hyper-sexualized formula is overly tired or that The Weeknd’s style is a thing of the past. More so, it feels like The Weeknd’s lyrics fail to provide anything new this time around and have lost some of their nervous, energy-fueled power. He still sings anxiously and urgently — no one will doubt that he is an excellent R&B singer — but “Kiss Land” just doesn’t have the type of edgy, innovative language that his previous albums did.
Regardless of its lyrical faults, “Kiss Land” is an enjoyable listen, even after numerous times. It takes a bit of effort from the listener to allow the lyrics to slide, but the music is solidly produced, and a feature from fellow Toronto native Drake adds to The Weeknd’s melancholic singing. The album’s opening track, “Professional,” is an example of one of the better songs. Acting as a gentle introduction to the album, the song begins slowly, incorporating echoes before transitioning into a fuller, more developed track. Singing the words, “It’s ideal / You need someone to tell you how to feel,” The Weeknd promises an album full of stories about twisted romances and broken relationships.
The seven-minute closing track, “Tears in the Rain,” is one of the best on the album. The productions loops, with Tesfaye singing over his own voice as each line ends. This lends a sense of urgency to the song and creates a feeling of longing for something that he will not attain. The lyrics enhance this concept, with Tesfaye singing, “You deserve real love / And I deserve to be by myself.” The songs situated between these two bookends of the album wave by like underwater reeds, at times slightly distorted and unclear, but overall smooth and pleasant.
The Weeknd’s “Kiss Land” is an effective album with intriguing sounds and experimental beats that play to the singer’s strengths. Although the record’s trite lyrics border on silly and inane, The Weeknd’s vocal talents and the excellent production push past these flaws, making “Kiss Land” a respectable record.