Reviews are a pain-free way of combining writing with what I love, in a way that generates interest. So I keep doing them loool.
Banished to the Afterlife
Canadian pop star The Weeknd kicks off the new year with the release of his fifth studio album, ‘Dawn FM’. Presented in a jaunty radio format, with the assistance of actor Jim Carrey as narrator, ‘Dawn FM’ is overseen by a concept which sees The Weeknd having to pay for his earthly sins by being banished to an afterlife purgatory-type realm.
The record’s concept is executed passionately, however it’s not always essential. It’s easy to appreciate, but even with its serious subject matter, it can feel expendable. On top of that, as ‘Dawn FM’ ends, listeners may find themselves wondering whether the ominous presence of Jim Carrey enhanced or hindered their listening experience.
That aside, the album’s upfront existentialism does provide some interesting detours. Moreover, the new project’s production is pristine. Calvin Harris and Swedish House Mafia are two of the bigger names involved with it.
The overall presentation of the LP’s wide assortment of electro, pop and soul/R&B songs is a high-point within itself. The eighties influence that shaped The Weeknd’s international hits ‘Save Your Tears’ and ‘Blinding Lights’ can be found right across ‘Dawn FM’ on tracks like ‘Out Of Time’, and the gloriously off-kilter ‘Gasoline’.
The 31-year old Canadian singer/songwriter has publicly stated that ‘Dawn FM’ is a direct follow up to his 2020 album ‘After Hours’.
Admittedly, when listening to ‘Dawn FM’, there is a strong sense that The Weeknd is actively trying to one-up its predecessor. There’s much to take in during the standard edition's sixteen tracks. Some of them play out as slightly better (or slightly worse) versions of previously released tunes by the artist. This project’s unabashedly addictive lead singles ‘Take My Breath’ and ‘Sacrifice’ sit seamlessly alongside The Weeknd’s massively successful lockdown bop ‘In Your Eyes’.
Like ‘Dawn FM’, ‘After Hours’ also frolicked with a running narrative. ‘After Hours’ followed The Weeknd as he self-destructed during a whirlwind, unforgettable night on the town. ‘Dawn FM’ sounds as if it aims to outshine ‘After Hours’ with even heftier concepts about angels, premature death and walking into “the light”. As ‘Dawn FM’ broadly follows this blueprint, there are occasional bouts of 'After Hours' deja-vu. Overall though, ‘Dawn FM’ is home to a sizeable playlist of undeniable tunes, alongside some filler moments.
The Nether Regions of Outer Space
Preceding the album’s extended version of lead single ‘Take My Breath’ - which unfortunately forgoes the radio version’s quick fire pop immediacy - ‘How Can I Make You Love Me?’ is a stylised, affected electro cut. ‘How Can I Make You Love Me?’ is liberally decorated with tantalising, warped vocals and defected production tricks. The tune allows its over-production to run wild, while still somehow managing to play by the rigid rules of pop radio. The song belongs somewhere between an eighties gym, a lab of cyborgs, and the nether regions of outer space.
Serving as a prelude to ‘Out Of Time’, a song on which The Weeknd can be heard describing his growing pains and in-relationship missteps, American record producer legend Quincy Jones uses his guest spot on ‘A Tale By Quincy’ to talk about his own.
‘Here We Go…Again’ and ‘Starry Eyes’ are two intimate doses of future-love balladry that stand out on the project’s playlist. Featuring rapper Tyler, The Creator, the heartfelt ‘Here We Go…Again’ deserves a few repeat plays. When the song’s revealing lyrics were originally posted online, they quickly ignited internet speculation about who exactly The Weeknd is referring to as he coyly sings, “and my new girl, she a movie star… I loved her right, make her scream like Neve Campbell.”
Unlike Lil’ Wayne’s appearance on ‘I Heard You’re Married’, Tyler, The Creator’s guest spot on ‘Here We Go…Again’ doesn’t feel forced - it matches up with the aura of the song. Synth-pop ballad ‘Starry Eyes’ is a highlight. The cut enticingly fuses traditional, candle-lit soul crooner vibes with futuristic flavours using its epic, widescreen and spaced-out instrumental.
On Romance’s Bad Side, Once Again
‘Best Friends’ sounds like a B-side. It’s easily outshone by other entries on the album. Even with its stabbing synths and glassy beats, ‘Best Friends’ is largely forgettable. To a lesser degree, the same could be said about mid-tempo electro-pop bop ‘Is There Someone Else?’
Following the same creative design as ‘Starry Eyes’, albeit in a more gradual and understated way, ‘Is There Someone Else?’ is pleasant, and easy on the ears melodically. Yet, again, it isn’t overly memorable.
Interlude ‘Every Angel Is Terrifying’ interestingly presents the album’s post-life themes in ready-to-wear, commercialised packaging. Its slick, spliced together collage of vivid samples, hi-tech effects and sharp satire is more visionary and unforeseen than the majority of the songs that surround it.
The Weeknd is on romance’s bad side once again for ‘Don’t Break My Heart’, which is an understated cut. On it, an appealing ghostly, metallic effect is applied to his vocals. The Weeknd can be heard dramatically singing, “I can't take another heartbreak, or I'll end it all.” The tune is further enhanced by a run of unpredictable elements and unconfined, breezy production touches.
“May Peace Be With You”
The Weeknd appears alongside rapper Lil’ Wayne for ‘I Heard You’re Married’. Wayne doesn’t do anything game-changing on the tune. His contribution to ‘I Heard You’re Married’ doesn’t always feel intuitive. Still, the tune’s bass-line and retro influences are seducing. The combination of The Weeknd’s higher singing register and smooth delivery with the song’s rugged, vigorous vintage beats is undeniable.
The Weeknd’s vocals sound satisfyingly airy and untroubled on ‘Less Than Zero’. Set over a bubbly eighties-tinged pop beat, the lyrics of ‘Less Than Zero’ depict The Weeknd in a forlorn and lonely state. Yet there’s something grandstanding about the track’s sonics, and sing-along hook. The song’s utter dejection sounds as if it’s also been designed for the masses to sing loud and care freely in a loud stadium-like arena.
Committed to his role as the album’s narrator and mystical guide, Jim Carrey can be heard advising lost souls on the album’s last track and outro, ‘Phantom Regret By Jim’. While The Weeknd is heard yelping helplessly in the background, Carrey puts aside the comedic talents that made him a household name for an all-knowing, rather foreboding final appearance on ‘Dawn FM’.
Over muted, mournful keys and rumbling synths that swirl more and more chaotically within the outro’s background, Carrey signs out with the words, “God knows life is chaos, but He made one thing true. You gotta unwind your mind, train your soul to align.”
He then adds,“you gotta be Heaven to see Heaven, may peace be with you.”