Beauty Behind The Madness Album Review
Released August 28, 2015
Genre: R&B, Pop
i’m not gonna hold anything back: I absolutely hated Kiss Land, Abel Tesfaye’s debut studio release. Every song on the debut was overly indulgent, hyper-sexual, and was plagued by production failures. This stark departure from Tesfaye’s depressing and introspective R&B gave a new breath to the genre. After his three genre-defining mixtapes, I was hoping for Tesfaye to progress his sound even further in the Alternative R&B world. Since then, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this project, known ubiquitously as The Weeknd. When “Can’t Feel My Face” was realized, I was surprised by the surprisingly conventional instrumentation. Not to say that the song is bad, it’s actually pretty great. But it showcased that The Weeknd could make a song so simple, yet so effective. As usual he does show is penchant for MJ and he does get a little funky, but that, in a sense, is the thesis for this album. Beauty Behind The Madness finds The Weeknd experimenting with different sounds while still holding R&B close to his chest. However, The Weeknd plays it safe, failing to keep these explorations diverse, compelling, and interesting.
The Weeknd has always been a pop fan at heart, so a lot of these tracks, which find him abandoning his alternative trademarks, can be seen as quite normal. The club-raving banger “The Hills” features a wonderfully distorted bass that perfectly captures the neurotic and throbbing pulse of the entire song. “Shameless” and “Dark Times” find The Weeknd utilizing the guitar to gain an organic feel, and surprisingly they pay off. Even Ed Sheeran’s feature (who I’ve haven’t been a big fan of as of late) doesn’t overstays his welcome as he brings blues riffs to the already “Dark Times”. “Shamelss” starts off soft before it’s ripped open with a spectacular guitar solo reminiscent of hair metal’s golden days; a great experiment indeed. The baroque inspired and jarring opener “Real Life” is a great foray for Tesfaye as he perfectly experiments with sounds, yet keeps it simple enough to be approachable. The Fifty Shades of Grey cut “Earned It” is a great experiment with baroque sounds and dynamics, but can’t be saved from its soul-crushingly bland lyricism.
When listening to Beauty Behind The Madness I found that while The Weekend plays with different sounds, he doesn’t necessarily go deep enough into these ideas to fully flesh them out. By not doing so, he has rendered the album surprisingly bland, which is a surprise when knowing how many solid songs he has on here. Honestly, once you go through the second-half of the album, they all begin to sound the same. Not all, but some.
The Weeknd isn’t a bad artist, and Beauty Behind The Madness is a great improvement from the vile Kiss Land; but the fact that Tesfaye’s is playing things close to the chest, in order to stay accessible is kind of a cheat in my opinion. For an artist who owes it all to PBR&B’s bandwagon fans and experimental tendencies, it’s kind of ironic to see The Weeknd abandon genre exploration for a mainstream appeal. Not to say that this is his intention, but with the evidence at hand that’s what it seems to be his vision. Nonetheless, Beauty Behind The Madness is a nice place in Tesfaye’s discography- that awkward place between “almost there” and “not quite”.
FAV TRACKS: Real Life, Often, The Hills, Can’t Feel My Face, Shameless, Dark Times
LEAST FAV TRACKS: Acquainted, Prisoner