Despite some indications that Abel Tesfaye can supply the poetry and melodies he offered so effortlessly in previous work, he appears to have bitten off more than he can chew this time around
25th November via XO and Republic
Performing under the pseudonym of ‘The Weeknd’, Canadian R&B singer Abel Tesfaye shot into modern pop superstardom with last year’s Beauty Behind the Madness. Tesfaye’s mix of down-tempo, smooth soul and digitally altered hip-hop beats alongside sexualised and drug-inspired lyrics brought commercial success and gave the 26 year-old a somewhat unique position in the modern pop scene.
Fast-forward a year to late 2016 and Tesfaye has looked to take advantage of his newfound pop-prince status through Starboy. There are certainly promising moments within Tesfaye’s latest album, often propelled by outsider’s contributions. The influence of Daft Punk in titular lead single ‘Starboy’ adds a much-needed slick edge.
Indeed, the French electro-duo’s presence on the album’s second single and album closer ‘I Feel It Coming’ provides one of the album’s highlights and forces the Canadian singer to embrace a smoother persona which is more akin to Thriller-era Michael Jackson. This is an influence Tesfaye seemingly aims to channel in this album, and it comes across better on this song than elsewhere on Starboy.
Guest performers and producers are crammed into the album in an attempt to increase creativity and interest to the album, totaling eighteen songs and lasting sixty-eight minutes. Lana Del Rey assists another one of Starboy‘s more original and most interesting moments, performing as the love-interest character in ‘Stargirl Interlude’. Tesfaye has often spoke of Del Rey’s impact on his work, and this interlude – placed mid-way through the occasionally sluggish album – allows both artists to play up to the theatrics which they have often been praised for.
Another shining light is offered in the form of fourth track ‘Reminder’, which offers, incidentally, an actual reminder that Tesfaye has the ability to channel the inner-personality he so often intends to show. Throughout Starboy, there are many indications that 26-year old can supply the poetry and melodies he found so succinctly in his past work.
However, it is frequently difficult to overlook the realisation that perhaps Tesfaye has attempted too much on this album: much of Starboy feels reused and lacking in new ideas. ‘Six Feet Under’, which features Future, feels like a cheaper version of the duo’s previous collaboration on ‘Low Life’ and follows the Kendrick Lamar-featuring ‘Sidewalks’.
Lamar’s contribution to this track feels appropriately unenthusiastic; coming at the album’s midpoint, where Starboy begins to feel like it has given up on breaking new ground. Only a final flurry of encouraging songs in the form of ‘Die For You’ and ‘I Feel It Coming’ deliver a fresh element to the album’s second half.
Starboy will undoubtedly prove a commercial success, powered by its namesake lead single and the promise of smooth R&B from one of the decade’s most popular artists. Yet, despite its occasional bright sparks, the disfigured and stumbling filler prevalent within Starboy may leave fans and critics feeling that The Weekend still has yet to perfect his true identity as a songwriter.