The Weeknd’s “After Life”: A Tragedy

Gabriel Farhadian, Staff Writer

The Weeknd’s newest album, “After Hours,” is on the way to the top of the charts, selling 400,000 albums, and occupying 14 of the 15 slots on Spotify’s top U.S. chart, but whether the album is an industry-pleasing income-earner, a novelty, or a failure for Abel Tesfaye to recreate the dark irony of his past albums, is disputed. 

“After Hours” begins with “Alone Again,” an overtly haunting piece painted with ethereal and glistening synths, mumbling vocals, and a liberally applied reverb. The sound is floating and warped, and seems to be an exit from reality, but as always in The Weeknd’s music, the departure is not a pure and innocent one, but a polluted and makeshift avenue, borne from Tasfaye’s substance addictions. 

The LP goes on to soak listeners in a synth-filled grander. In “Faith,” the outro composition clarifies the Gotham-City-like tone —The Weeknd has been called “The Dark Knight” by media before — beginning with police sirens and morphing into an ambient instrumental section seething with confused vocalizations. He seems to be standing at the building in Batman’s mythical city, watching and reflecting on the police’s feeble efforts to foil the plots of super villains. “Hardest To Love” also contains a fantastic experimental composition towards its end, stocked with muted synths whose swirling backdrop is foregrounded by delayed and repetitive alien-like sounds. 

Unfortunately, there are few moments so novel in the rest of the work. “Too Late” contains cheap electronic buildups and drops, and “Scared to Live” features all too generic power chords. 

The absolutely overwhelming superfluousness of the production in these songs works to perpetually undermine the album’s credibility. Already massive synths are layered over each other in effort to make the composition powerful, but fail to do so because of the absence of softer, quieter moments, instead burning the listener’s ears with suffocating noise.

The interlude “Repeat After Me” rewards listeners with its minimalist stature, beginning only with an old blues organ. It is a reward because there are very few other points in the album that are not either full-bore power sections, or savagely oversaturated and over-reverbed reflection movements.

“After Hours” is simply too much: too many synths, too many EDM-like drops, and worse still, too blatant in its depravity. It is worryingly inauthentic considering how Tesfaye’s music has historically prided itself on its complex impurity, its villainous chants, and disillusioned tension. 

What used to be a complex picture of addiction and depravity’s destructive network has now become an oversimplified commodity, raking up listens and consumers even more than previous albums. 

The album’s cover is a panicked attempt to overtly depict violence and wooziness, much unlike the cover from his 2012 album “Trilogy,” which is a subversively cryptic, tragic, and colorless frame of him looking down with a woman’s arm around him. Even the song titles within the two albums reveal an obvious difference. Where “Trilogy” held titles like “House Of Balloons” and “Heaven Or Las Vegas,” whose sadistic, dynamic irony contrasted against the depressed and addicted substance of the lyrics and melodies, “After Hours” does not create such contrast with titles like “Alone Again,” “Heartless,” “Scared To Live,” and “Until I Bleed Out.” 

“Trilogy” prolifically produces complex novelty in its sound with high concept, contained, calculated tracks. There is a diversity of instruments on songs like “The Morning” and “the Birds pt. 1,” which are both fueled by an electric guitar riff. “The Birds pt. 2” goes further with its effectual adventurousness, being driven by a western-style tremolo guitar part. In “Heaven or Las Vegas,” a luxurious and elegant piano riff, like you might find in the smooth lounge electronic music of Wax Tailor, is met with an obscenely punk guitar power riff that rips through the instrumental to serve as a hinge in the melody, and the breaking point of Tesfaye’s sanity, as he sings, “I got heaven … I am God.” The song proceeds further as a wonderfully odd design, ending with a strange reverbed vocal, backgrounded by a reggae guitar rhythm. Abel Tesfaye is quite capable of creating work that is extraordinary. 

In Tesfaye’s new track, “Faith,” he sings, “I’ve been sober for a year, now it’s time for me/ To go back to my old ways,” but it seems that he already has attempted and failed to do so. For whatever reason, be it pleasing the industry with albums they see fitting for his image or just a creative dark age, Tesfaye’s insidious, cryptic, and ironic past work must be left behind, and something new must develop. 

“After Hours” keeps fans of The Weeknd’s older material hoping that he is genuinely going through an artistic rut, where he is struggling to find his new sound. Otherwise, they fear that he might be following what he ironically prophesied in his track “The Morning,” “all that money/ the money is the motive.” In that case, it seems the industry might have tempted another artist to develop with the sole intent of capturing the largest fanbase.