Album Review: Beauty Behind the Madness
Approximately two years after Kiss Land, his debut album in 2013, alternative R&B singer, songwriter and record producer, Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, released his highly anticipated, sophomore album, Beauty Behind the Madness. This article will discuss the concepts behind the album, the lyricism and the production involved in forming The Weeknd’s second studio album.
BBTM is not a conceptual album; rather the work seems to be a compilation of experimental tracks which Abel had produced. His conventional themes involving sex, drugs, parties and girls make an appearance on this album but the production and genres present these motifs in various ways. We are used to Abel’s signature melancholy, dark and crepuscular atmosphere from his mixtapes House of Balloons, Echoes of Silence and Thursday.
Yet through BBTM, he accompanies his tone with more diverse sounds, unexpected features and contemporary pop beats. Alongside his brilliant falsetto, the introduction of mainstream instrumentals appeals to his rapidly increased demographic that got hooked on his hit singles such as, Can’t Feel My Face. The production behind this fan favorite is quite different compared to his old tracks such as Twenty Eight. But, the subject matter is more or less the same.
Through the song, Can’t Feel My Face, Abel symbolizes drugs, perhaps cocaine, with a girl. The lines, “I know she’ll be the death of me, at least we’ll both be numb…at least we’ll both be beautiful and stay forever young” exemplify his troubling addiction to cocaine. This is a prime example of The Weeknd’s roots and how his subject matter has not change drastically. Other songs that show this sex-driven lifestyle theme would include Often, The Hills, In the Night and Earned It. In short, the themes expressed through the songs are quite normal relative to The Weeknd’s origins, however the way they are delivered will be discussed in further detail later. There is little correlation between each songs, following no order. Perhaps, Abel just wanted to release an album full of bangers and if that was the goal, he did a fine job. As Abel said himself in Tell Your Friends, “I’m that n----- with the hair, singing ‘bout popping pills, f------ b------, living life so trill.”
The sound; the production; the instrumentals; this is what completes the “madness” in the album. BBTM includes a whole range of sounds, starting with the rhythmic bass and frequent snares and hi-hats present in all modern hip-hop/rap music and ranging out to instruments commonly found in rock, techno, pop, and jazz music. For example, his experimentation and newly found liking in heavy synthesizers is emphasized throughout the album, blasting your ears from the opener, Real Life. It continues through Losers, The Hills, Can’t Feel My Face, In The Night and Prisoner. It uniquely suits his falsetto, effectively emphasizing the pain and emotions shown through his voice. These songs are more hard-hitting and a good example of this is shown in the hook of Losers which is essentially all instrumentals.
Moreover, guitar, acoustic and electric, becomes instrumental in many of his songs in this project including Shameless, Dark Times and Angel. Exploring with the acoustic guitar gives Abel his original dark and pondering tone as Shameless and Dark Times has a very basic guitar but moving melody. Simplistic instrumentals are experimented as Shameless, Dark Times and even Earned It all have straightforward rhythms. This allows the spotlight to shine on Abel’s extraordinary voice. The melodic, swaying instrumental causes the listeners’ heads to bobble up and down to the rhythm as shown through Dark Times and Earned It. The guitar and strings have emphasized the first note and almost released and relaxed the second note. These sensual instrumentals allow the audience to fall in a trance full of love and pain. Think of it as an inhale and exhale. Oh, and probably the feature of Ed Sheeran in Dark Times helped with that too.
The endings of some of the songs really show the traditional, misty atmosphere of The Weeknd. Perhaps showing that he is staying true to his sound, the endings of Acquainted and As You Are are unique to The Weeknd’s voice. The instrumentals mellow out – very Drake-esque – having his voice emphasized. The prime example of this would be the dreamy ending of As You Are as Abel contemplates if the girl could take him as he is like he takes the girl as she is. This sound of a swaying disillusion is signature Weeknd and could fit easily in the Trilogy. Furthermore, the isolation of the irregular drum beat in the ending of Acquainted and the accompanying wailing melody adds a thoughtful and deep tone to the track. Lastly, at the very end of Kanye-produced song, Tell Your Friends, one can see the fading out of the line, “life so trill”.
One may also notice the change in the mood as the song starts out with such a relaxed piano melody. Additionally, the hook of the song is heavily pop-influenced. However, the fading out of the last line shows the truth behind Abel’s thoughts. Throughout the song, he talks about sex, girls, money and power and he seems to be enjoying himself, however it ends in a much more negative tone as you can see through him. His tone effectively displays the sadness and depressing nature of his life. On the contrary, the song, Losers, ends with his newly found experimental sounds. In Losers, one can correlate the big band ending with a jazzy genre as it crescendos to the very last note, unusual for a Weeknd song.
There is always room for constructive criticism as no piece of work is perfect. The Weeknd, although proving to be an impressive vocalist, lacks in terms of lyrics. His continued use of more or less limited vocabulary to describe his lifestyle may grow tiring after time. As one can still observe, his subject matter is quite linear as repeatedly this article has mentioned the sex, drugs, power, money and girls. However, one may be able to see how his themes act as a double-edged sword, as he seems to not love his life. These simple themes expressed allow a somewhat shallow connection between Abel and his demographic other than being party and after party songs. Also, some tracks have phrases and beats that seem to be a copy of other songs. For example, in the hook of The Hills and Acquainted, the bass follows a similar pattern and therefore shows his reliance on heavy bass to allow the song to slap.
Further, in Angel, a part of the hook sounds quite alike Fetty Wap’s Come My Way. However, understandably, this limited creativity in melodies may have resulted in his pop-influenced experiments. Lastly, tying into the mainstream attempt of the album by Abel, this “experiment” may have divided his fans. Many long-time fans have disliked this new pop-influence as they want the moody, dark and thoughtful Trilogy vibe while other, perhaps newer fans, like the new, lightened, up-beat songs. Nevertheless, it is evident that the introduction of a variety of genres has increased his demographic and revenue.
In conclusion, The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness has been his most electric album to date. His experimentation with different sounds and genres of music resulted in an overall positive outcome and public reaction. Some songs created seemed to be bangers however others remain stems off Abel’s signature dark tone. The production was on point, starring Kanye West, Illangelo and Ben Billions. Further, guest appearances were excellent, each suiting their role perfectly, adding to the respective feel of their song. In my opinion, I found it adventurous to evolve and explore other genres, making him such a versatile artist. It was evidently a successful sophomore release and the world can’t wait to see what The Weeknd does next.