Beauty Behind the Madness is the second full length album released by Abel Tesfaye, better known by his stage name The Weeknd. After anonymously uploading several songs to Youtube in 2010, he self-released a series of 9-track mixtapes in 2011. The following year, he released Trilogy, a compilation of all 3 mixtapes, with remastered versions and additional songs. He has been gaining steady momentum in the hip hop scene over the last few years, guest starring on tracks with various artists such as Drake, Wiz Khalifa, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande and Sia.
Beauty Behind the Madness is a notable step in a more pop-oriented direction for Tesfaye, with a more polished and produced aesthetic that is a sharp turn away from the murky smolder of his earlier work. A noticeable instrumental presence is one of the first things I noticed after just the first track. Real Life opens the album as a mission statement of sorts. Tesfaye stands bold and unapologetic about the way he creates his art and lives his life, citing destructive tendencies and his aversion to falling in love. “Mama called me destructive, said it’d ruin me one day. ‘Cause every woman that loved me, I seem to push them away. That’s real life”
The remaining 13 tracks feel like a story that unfolds slowly, Tesfaye’s unmistakable falsetto keeping each song tightly anchored to deep tempos and rumbling bass.
“I Can’t Feel My Face” has already been established as the breakout hit of the summer, and I was very curious to see how well it fit in with the rest of the album. The danceable melody evoked traces of Michael Jackson, and surprisingly it is a perfect complement to the atmospheric and somber nature of the two surrounding tracks.
Ed Sheerhan and Lana Del Rey each contributed to individual songs, giving further clout to Tesfaye’s seeming transition into the pop genre. It seems appropriate considering a large part of his credibility as a vocalist has been his extensive guest vocal work for other musicians.
If there’s one thing I love about any album, it’s a good closing track. Something to give that final punch that will keep you coming back to the album again and again. The last track on Beauty Behind the Madness is undoubtedly my favorite: a synth drenched love song with sharp strings and a guitar kick reminiscent of a power ballad. Tesfaye warns the seeming object of his affection about the downfalls of falling in love with him. He laments the fact that someone is in love with him, and he hopes that they find someone to love them better than he can. It’s a very refreshing contradiction that may seem heartbreaking, but considering that he lives inside “a dangerously empty life”, it isn’t too far fetched that he can never truly fall in love, as much as he may want to.
The Weeknd has just announced a fall tour, head to www.theweeknd.com for dates and tickets.