Anyone who’s been keeping up with pop music over the last few months has undoubtedly heard the 80’s-reminiscent powerhouse track known as “Can’t Feel My Face” by the oddly-haired singer and songwriter known as The Weeknd (And yes, that’s without an ‘e’.) Despite releasing nine mixtapes in 2011, and releasing his debut album entitled Kiss Land in 2013, mainstream audiences became acquainted with the silky R&B singer with the song he performed for 50 Shades of Grey entitled “Earned It”. Since then, The Weeknd has been blowing up the pop charts with four top five singles in preparation for his new album release. His second album release, entitled Beauty Behind the Madness, was released on August 28, 2015. Featuring popular vocalists like Ed Sheeran and Lana Del Rey, and being partially produced by the great Kanye West, this was a highly anticipated release for the Canada native, and is projected to sell around 250,000 units in the first week.
Instrumentally speaking, this album is incredibly versatile, complex and well-produced, while still maintaining its pop and R&B sensibilities and complementing The Weeknd’s voice in the perfect way. Some of these songs borderline on piano ballads, some could be considered hip hop beats, and some even sound very light and poppy. For example, “Tell Your Friends”, produced by Kanye West, uses a very understated rhythm section, with piano as the lead, and even has accents of electric guitar placed in with the instrumentals. On the other side of things, “The Hills” contains dark synths and an insanely heavy, driving bass line. “Can’t Feel My Face” sounds like it could’ve fit in perfectly on Thriller, containing upbeat synths and a fast paced rhythm. Each of these songs evokes a different vibe and mood, yet The Weeknd still manages to perfectly match what each song is trying to with his voice. Typically, and R&B voice like his can easily become a one-trick pony and put in a box of what people think it’s supposed to be. However, The Weeknd does an amazing job of matching the mood and intensity level every time, while still sounding as silky and smooth as ever. He really demonstrates his incredible vocal prowess and versatility with this album.
The Weeknd has taken a very introspective approach to the lyrical themes of Beauty Behind the Madness. The general conceit of this album centers around all of The Weeknd’s addictions in his life, whether it be to alcohol, harder drugs, or even a sexual addiction, and how the important relationships in his life are affected by these addictions. He seems to be very self-aware when it comes to his lifestyle choices and how he is perceived in the public eye, as seen in these lines from “Tell Your Friends”: “I don’t drink my liquor with a chasin’, And money is the only thing I’m chasin’, And some dope dimes on some coke lines…I’m that n**** with the hair, Singing ’bout popping pills, f****** bitches, living life so trill”. He also speaks on having sexual experiences with married women, as well as the kind of person he feels like he is when he’s intoxicated, as seen in these lines from “The Hills”: “Your man on the road, he doing promo, You said keep our business on the low-low, I’m just tryna get you out the friend zone, ‘Cause you look even better than the photos…I only love it when you touch me, not feel me, When I’m f****d up, that’s the real me”. Even “Can’t Feel My Face”, which is just a bubblegum pop song on the surface, is actually a subtle indictment on his heroin addiction, and how he knows what it could do to his life, as seen in these lines: “And I know she’ll be the death of me, at least we’ll both be numb, And she’ll always get the best of me, the worst is yet to come…She told me, ‘Don’t worry about it.’, She told me, ‘Don’t worry no more.’, We both knew we can’t go without it.” It is pretty rare to see someone so open about their vices because it is easy to judge someone for things like that, but the way The Weeknd removed the taboo from the subject in such a way made for very important lyrics on this album.
Admittedly, despite the praise this album has been given so far, this album does have its flaws. Outside of this album’s massive hits, which makes up a large part of it, the songs get somewhat repetitive and too long. Also, despite the fact that it’s a very enjoyable song, “Earned It” should’ve stayed a single, due to the fact that it simply doesn’t fit into the themes of this album, both lyrically and instrumentally. Despite these bumps in the road, I give this album a 7.8/10, there are some extremely enjoyable songs on this album that have deeper meaning than what’s on the surface. It evokes a lot of thoughts and feelings that you don’t see very often from pop music, and for that, Beauty Behind the Madness deserves its popularity.