Album Reviews: The Weeknd and Arctic Monkeys

Canadian crooner Abel Tesfaye, aka the Weeknd, has a new album out today. So do British rockers the Arctic Monkeys. Here’s what’s going on with the new releases.

Emily Eveland

 

Artist: The Weeknd

Album: “Kiss Land”

Label: Republic

 

The Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye is an unorthodox crooner. Rather than churning out love ballads with Sinatra-inspired gush, he’s followed the lead of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, disguising vulgar lyrics with a voice that makes you feel like you’ve cheated on your significant other.

“Kiss Land” marks Tesfaye’s arrival into major label territory. While his three previous mix tapes, combined to form “Trilogy,” often drifted into monotony, “Kiss Land” brings listeners on a tour through their favorite nightmares. 

Tesfaye wrestles with the byproducts of fame throughout the album, including adulterous ex-lovers, drug and alcohol use and the loss of self over trance- inducing synth and drum machine beats. The resulting sound is a cross between Prince-level sexuality and Kid Cudi’s mesmerizing melancholia.

The Weeknd is a master of contradiction and flaunts it unapologetically. He sings of true love and then denies its existence. He shuns women who mistreat him and then busts out one-liners like this on the album’s title track: “You can meet me in the room where the kisses ain’t free. You gotta pay with your body.”

Tesfaye’s voice is the biggest contradiction of all, making misogynist lyrics sound like Italian arias. If it weren’t for online lyric databases, one could probably play “Kiss Land” at your next family function without a single eyebrow raise.

The Weeknd’s musings on fame, modern love and internal disconnect are strong until Drake’s guest appearance on “Live For,” when Tesfaye falls into Drake’s champagne and stripper-loving trap and doesn’t emerge.

Listeners are left to wonder who this guy really is.  Is his switch from melancholia and lovesickness to misogyny and debauchery intentional? Are the contrasting sides of Tesfaye more interconnected than they seem? Is the point that there isn’t one?

“Kiss Land” should be enjoyed song by song because, honestly, this guy is impossible to pin down. Enigmatic personas like The Weeknd keep listeners interested and, most importantly, they sell.

 

4 out of 5 stars

 

Artist: Arctic Monkeys

Album: “AM”

Label: Domino

 

It’s hard to maintain heartthrob status through your late 20s, but England’s Arctic Monkeys aren’t afraid to try.

The band’s fifth studio album “AM” indulges in youthful themes like getting back with exes and disagreements over text while segueing into new levels of maturity. This transition, however, is not without problems.

Frontman Alex Turner sounds bored. Perhaps his lackluster vocals are a result of the heartbreak underlying most of the tracks on “AM,” or maybe he’s just getting older. If it weren’t for the excessive vocal layering and powerhouse instrumentation, Turner wouldn’t stand a chance.

That said, the Ozzy-esque guitar riffs and hip-hop inspired drumbeats on “AM,” specifically in “Do I Wanna Know?” are sure to win the band new fans while nourishing the old.

The hip-hop influence is most apparent in the track “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” which nods to Dr. Dre’s beat-making and weed smoking.

Songs like “Why’d You Only Call Me” make “AM” unsettling in a good way. Listeners get a sense of lingering dissatisfaction and displacement that keeps them hanging on, even with Turner’s vocals at their worst. The eerie instrumentation is a welcome departure from the band’s usual sugary sound.

If the vocals and slower, sappier songs like “No. 1 Party Anthem” and “Mad Sounds” didn’t drag the album down as it reaches its peak, “AM” would be solid throughout. For now, savvy listeners will stick to the hits and skip the rest.

 

3.5 out of 5 stars