The Weeknd’s ‘Starboy’ good, but not ‘What You Need’

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, November 30th, 2016 at 6:10 PM
The Weeknd’s ‘Starboy’ good, but not ‘What You Need’ by Natalie Wiepert

While the sound that originally made Abel Tesfaye — more widely known as The Weeknd — unique in his debut mixtapes is not always present in new album “Starboy,” there are noteworthy tracks, and overall, it’s a well done pop record.

Just don’t expect to hear the ambitious R&B melodies of his earlier work.

With “Starboy,” Tesfaye seems to have traded out dark, melodic R&B vocals for radio-friendly, auto-tune heavy music, fit for a mainstream audience. And the album has already made its commercial mark, breaking Spotify’s record of most streams in 24 hours by a single artist, a feat topping Justin Bieber’s 36 million streams.

“Starboy,” the first single released from the LP in September, features Daft Punk instrumentals and has already become a regular on Top 40 radio. It has spent 10 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number two and currently sitting third.

“Party Monster” is one of the stronger tracks melodically, if not lyrically. It features background vocals from Lana Del Rey, who he collaborated with on “Beauty Behind The Madness.”

The third track, “False Alarm,” is just that — an alarmingly weak song not up to par with Tesfaye’s better music. The content holds true to his usual themes of drugs and women, but feels off. As loud and fast paced as it is, the song lacks energy.

“Reminder” brings back the sound that grabbed listeners in the beginning of Tesfaye’s career, with a dark, elusive synth line, though — regrettably — also with auto tune. He references his launch into icon status and the irony of getting a Teen Choice Award nomination for a song written about cocaine.

An ode to 1980s greats, Tesfaye samples both Tears for Fears and The Romantics in the sixth track, titled “Secrets.” A diversion from his usual sound, the 80s vibes add variety to the album and are a pleasant mix from Tesfaye.

“Stargirl Interlude,” the shortest track on “Starboy” and their most sexually-driven collaboration, features Lana Del Rey and is a standout track. Rey is a pure fit for the melodramatic sounds that Tesfaye shares. “I had a vision/A vision of my nails in the kitchen,” sings Rey. “Scratching counter tops, I was screaming/My back arched like a cat, my position couldn’t stop, you were hitting it.”

You may find yourself wishing this interlude was a bit longer, but it’s a good addition to collaborations they have already done together and may plan to do in the future.

The second half of the album improves with tracks like “Nothing Without You,” “Sidewalks,” featuring Kendrick Lamar, and “Six Feet Under,” with background vocals from Future — thankfully used subtly.

Anyone looking for slower, melodic R&B can find solace with “Attention.” It will grab you from the first verse and hook. “You’re only looking for attention/You only notice it cause I’m never abrupt,” sings Tesfaye. “You’re only looking for attention, oh, oh.”

“All I Know” is lyrically one of the more substantial tracks. We once again hear Future, who had collaborated with Tesfaye previously in “Low Life.”

It is undeniable that Tesfaye is a talented vocalist and writer, however, you may find yourself looking up “House Of Balloons” for a previous creative breakthrough by the time you reach “I Feel It Coming.”

Though “Starboy” has already peaked at being number one worldwide, any longtime fans who have been there since “Trilogy” will not be fully satisfied by these 18 tracks.

You can find the album on iTunes and Amazon, as well as streaming via Spotify, Apple Music or Tidal.

Standout tracks: “Sidewalks,” “Stargirl Interlude” and “Attention.” 

Natalie Wiepert is the digital editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at nataliewiepert@gmail.com.

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