Pop / R&B
Label: XO, Republic
It’s been cool to watch the journey that Abel Tesfaye, more famously known as The Weeknd, has taken from his more obscure roots as an R&B croon to the mainstream star that he is today. The Canadian artist first got his start putting out mixtapes and then proceeded to get noticed by record labels. I guess it’s only ironic that the guy who relished being closed off from the world would go on to be noticed by more and more people. Beauty Behind The Madness is Abel’s first foray into the mainstream and he takes the spotlight with grace.
I have to admit, I was pretty worried going in. The tried and true tale of lesser known artists going mainstream and drastically changing their sounds is one we hear often. I was worried the same would be true of The Weeknd. His classic dark and atmospheric sound, fueled by his past, love, and drugs, was the sound that made me gravitate towards his unique brand of R&B. It also doesn’t take a genius to recognize that this kind of sound doesn’t necessarily translate well to the top 40 airwaves. (Just take The Weeknd’s first official album Kiss Land for example. It was lauded well by critics but didn’t strike big among the general populace.) Luckily for me, and probably everybody else, his doesn’t miss a step, taking his familiar sound to the mainstream spotlight while appealing to the masses. Beauty Behind The Madness is simply the best case scenario for everybody.
Abel manages to fuse his addicting verses and melodies about troubled love and drugs with songs that are fit and ready to go on the radio. Just take “Can’t Feel My Face,” for example. The song manages to remain a “The Weeknd” song while at the same time providing us with one of the songs of the summer. It’s also pretty easy to realize that Michael Jackson is a common influence through it all. Literally, his influence rears its head on almost every note. Other songs like “The Hills” and 50 Shades of Grey’s “Earned It” are great examples as well.
Don’t let the mainstream coating around the album scare you away if you were a fan of the old Weeknd though. There is still a ton of material to keep you satisfied in between. “Often,” which has been released in the past, makes another appearance on the album and continues to be one of my favorites. Two songs towards the beginning of the album, “Real Life” and “Tell Your Friends,” act as good introductions to not only Abel’s music, but his life as well. They go into his dark past and the decisions that he has made while going on and stating that he is not going to change his ways despite his new-found gust of fame. He lays it out like it is. Abel has been pretty open in the past, but the songs on Beauty Behind The Madness dive deeper into the shrouds that surround the intriguing crooner.
Another thing that makes the album pop is the amazing production that is interlaced through every single track. The Weeknd handled a lot of the production on the album, but he also signed on the expertise of guys like Illangelo, Max Martin, Mike Dean, and even Kanye West for production duties. Everything sounded very great, setting a mood and atmosphere that just kills. On a side note, “Tell Your Friends,” produced in part by Kanye West, was in dire need of a Kanye verse. Just saying…
The album is primarily a solo affair, which only makes sense for the kind of artist that Abel is. The only features on the album are Che Pope, Ed Sheeran, and Lana Del Rey. Aside from Che Pope, Sheeran and Del Rey are two artists that just go hand in hand with The Weeknd’s style. The Weeknd and Sheeran’s “Dark Times” is a fantastic sounding song where the two feed off each other’s energy as the song goes on, culminating to a sweet sounding final duet. “Prisoner,” featuring Lana Del Rey, presents us with the musical styles of both artists which ultimately goes together like peanut butter and jelly. (Sorry, I had to use the PB&J analogy because it just makes sense.)
Beauty Behind The Madness is a textbook example by The Weeknd on handling new-found fame preceded by years of general obscurity. A couple of songs lack the luster that the other’s bring to the table, but ultimately The Weeknd presents us with a final package that will please everyone in the end. It’s a well put together album that will hopefully put The Weeknd on the map, if he hasn’t been put on there already.