Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 8 April 2020

Is The Weeknd’s After Hours the first great quarantine-pop album of the year?

The Canadian singer’s deeply immersive record is meant to be listened to in total isolation

The Weeknd new album is deeply immersive. Courtesy: Sife El Amine
The Weeknd new album is deeply immersive. Courtesy: Sife El Amine

The Weeknd’s latest batch of futuristic pop arrives in the nick of time.

As we head ever so closer to our own respective bouts of home isolation, the Canadian singer may have provided the perfect soundtrack to underscore these uncertain times.

After Hours is the first great Quarantine Pop – or Q-Pop – album of the Coronavirus era.

It’s a dreamy and brooding collection of slinky downers that talks about the things we think about when we are alone.

It’s that ugly stuff we bury deep down such as the regrets, the anger, the despair and the fact we all can all be shamefully needy.

The Weeknd (real name Abel Tesfaye) details it all with the glitz of a disco ball and the startling clarity of neon-lights in a deserted street.

Not that he knew anything like the pandemic would happen, of course, but where Tesfaye was first viewed as a dreary and enigmatic pop curiosity when first emerging in Toronto in 2010, he increasingly built a body of work that placed him closer to cultural conversation.

After Hours will probably find him reaching the zeitgeist, with social media already drawing parallels between the album’s anguished spirit and these trying times.

What makes it work so well is how assured it all sounds. There is a level of sophistication here, from the lyricism to the dense and cinematic production, that evaded Tesfaye in the past and points to an artist that has something to say.

Indeed, After Hours is his Blood on the Tracks. Similar to Bob Dylan’s corrosive love letter to his ex-wife, Tesfaye undergoes open heart surgery across 14 tracks as he analyses why his healthy bank account doesn’t equate with his mental state.

This is a ploy The Weeknd has used before, of course. But where previous attempts by the self-confessed “King of Toxic Romance” seemed unapologetic, there is a level of remorse that runs through After Hours that elevates the work to its aspired confessional status.

Over the burbling and twinkling synths of Alone Again, Tesfaye’s sweet croon addresses the substance abuse which contributed to his emotional recklessness.

While Hardest to Love sounds like a drum and bass hymn as Tesfaye puts the blame on himself for willing past relationships to fail. The six minute Escape from LA is deliberately torpid; Tesfaye is not giving himself any chances to escape here as he details a disturbing co-dependent relationship that went off the rails (You just wanted my affection/ You got me tattooed on your mind).

For a 30-year-old millionaire with a zest for supermodels, all of this naval gazing would have sounded ludicrous if it wasn’t backed up by affecting and fluid production that easily moves from shimmer to shudder.

Blinding Lights and Heartless, located in the middle section, are the album's resident bangers and both are carried by an intoxicating blend of stuttering trap beats and ocean black waves of synths. While Save Your Tears is the kind of propulsive New Wave pop that The Killers would have, well, killed for.

With such stompers occasionally paired by sultry ballads (particularly the chest clutching Scared To Live), the varied contrasts allows After Hours to become not only arguably The Weeknd’s best work, but in also delivering immersive and timely journey that’s meant to be savoured in total isolation.

Updated: March 20, 2020 11:15 PM

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