Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, is the Nas of modern alternative R&B. His popularity has exploded since his 2011 trio of mixtapes, reissued under the name “Trilogy.”
With his iconic falsetto, his music is relentlessly seductive, but since the days of “House of Balloons,” his flagship mixtape, he hasn’t released an equally cohesive album.
Now in 2018, with millions of fans watching, Tesfaye released his first EP, “My Dear Melancholy,” on Friday. There was no dramatic buildup to its release. Perhaps that’s because Tesfaye is cashing in on his fame, releasing all the music he can before he leaves the spotlight. “My Dear Melancholy” is inoffensive and catchy, but it shows no originality.
The EP opens with “Call Out My Name,” where The Weeknd reuses his style but in a refreshing way. It has the same feel as “Earned It,” but with more drama. The song is a solemn tribute to his ex-girlfriend Selena Gomez, and it shows that he legitimately misses her. And it works so well. He combines his sensual and sentimental sides in one of the hardest-hitting tracks of his career.
The problem is that the song comes at the beginning. There’s nothing wrong with a good opener, but an artist should make the following songs complement it. Tesfaye did not.
You can tell someone is turning into a vapid pop star when their songs alternate between a couple different chords. It’s lazy. “I Was Never There” sounds like Tesfaye got bored of Daft Punk’s production and replaced them with The Chainsmokers, as though that would help.
Sure, the song makes a transition halfway through, but the allure is gone by then. His producers Frank Dukes and Gesaffelstein could have at least split the song into two.
Then “Hurt You” comes on. It’s like someone sucked all the energy out of “Starboy” and tried to make it emotional. The emotion on the track is about as deep as a kiddie pool. “When you’re with him, you close your eyes and think of me,” is pretty presumptuous of Tesfaye.
He makes it sound like a love song but then sings, “But if you call me up, I’m f*ckin’ you on sight.” Mixing lustful and emotional attraction is paradoxical. Tesfaye can get girls in bed with him, but does he know how to maintain a relationship after that? Probably not.
Now, there are still some exceptions. The track “Wasted Times” is perhaps the most experimental song, with a few pleasant surprises. He isn’t abusing the “sex symbol” angle. Instead, he delivers woeful lyrics alluding to his relationships with Bella Hadid and Gomez.
The line “I don’t wanna wake up / if you ain’t layin’ next to me” is pretty corny, but it’s one of the few moments of genuine tenderness in Tesfaye’s entire discography.
If “Wasted Times” gets enough plays, it may signal a resurgence of future garage in pop music. Vince Staples utilized the same style on his 2017 album “Big Fish Theory” and it resulted in one of the best projects of the year. Perhaps the ultimate surprise is that Skrillex is credited on the song as a producer and songwriter. It’s odd to see the brostep legend in a songwriting role, but he executed the track very well.
The Weeknd is certainly like Nas — both consistently declined following their initial releases, with only occasional exceptions. And the fact that they didn’t improve on their first efforts signifies that their fame got to them.
The Weeknd may be a master of singles but he needs to do something radically different to show that he’s more than that. So much of “My Dear Melancholy” is recycled sounds from Tesfaye’s earlier work, to the point where it sounds like he isn’t even trying. There are moments of 2011’s The Weeknd, but the chances of him returning to that level are looking bleak.