'After Hours’ has finally dropped after a long year of being in the works. The Weeknd’s fourth studio album is a mixture of the usual dark material we are accustomed to, whilst paying homage to the ‘80s, with synths being thrown at us left and right.
With no features on the album, The Weeknd is truly able to deliver the most vulnerable and open project he has released to date, exploring themes of acceptance, emotional distraction, and the stages of a heartbreak.
Opening track ‘Alone Again’ sets the tone for the whole album, vocalising substance abuse, a lost state of mind and falling into the pleasures of his vices. Beginning with mysterious ambience (thanks to the addition of the synthesiser), The Weeknd’s dark lyrics create a gateway to his own rendition of sin city. The track’s twinkly production transitions into a harder hitting beat, with droning bass and aggressive drums. The change of tempo mid-song mirrors the switch in perspective when being under the influence of unnamed substances, pushing forward the narrative of said vices being used as a distraction from heartbreak. “I don't know if I can sleep alone again,” he implores, falling victim to the pain that he wants to shy away from. It’s a well-produced introduction to the world of turmoil and emotional battle after a break-up, a world this project goes on to explore.
‘Hardest to Love’ pays homage to liquid drum ‘N’ bass, building a sense of irony as the upbeat instrumental belies a heartfelt confession of wrong-doing. The Weeknd describes the breaking down of a relationship, blaming his own actions, and starts to take responsibility. “I can't, can't believe you want me,” he exclaims to his lover for wanting to come back despite all the pain he has caused. An angelic choir can be heard in this section too, creating a sense of hope, greatly showcasing how effective the production throughout this album is.
Moving further down the 14 track tracklist, ‘In Your Eyes’ is reminiscent of the disco era, with the inclusion of a more synth-heavy second half and a saxophone outro played by Tomas Jannson. The Weeknd showcases a vulnerability we’ve not witnessed before, turning away from his usual booze and drugs modus operandi to openly tackle his emotions and confess his wrong doings. “I'm ashamed of what I've done, yeah,” he admits, coming to the realisation that the pain he caused is hurting not only his previous lover, but himself. Even on a high-tempo up-beat dance track, his raw vocals present his pain in a poignant way and remain the focus of the track.
As the track progresses, the feeling of regret increases – the artist begins to see his own pain reflected in the person he’s hurt, as if her eyes are a mirror, revealing the detriment he has caused. This narrative is supported with well placed saxophone segments that come into play when Abel wants to showcase his regret, and by the space left for his vocal versatility shine through.
‘After Hours’ is a completely different sound to the one we’re accustomed to hearing from The Weeknd, but it’s welcomed. A mature ballad delving into the hardships of the loss of a lover, exploding with beautiful vocals, lyrics and bringing us back to the ‘80s era of synths, which is enjoyable and sets his sound apart from the current direction of music. Production-wise especially, this is The Weeknd’s strongest project yet, and deserves all the recognition.
Words: Ramy Abou-Setta
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