One thing that has been getting me through this global lockdown has been looking for and listening to new music. Like many people, I am not able to go into my day job right now, so I have had to think of ways to fill my time, and analyzing music has been one great way for me to do that. With that being said, thank you to The Weeknd for going ahead with his album rollout and dropping After Hours despite all of the craziness going on in the world right now. After Hours is the fourth album to be released by The Weeknd, and the first one since Starboy came out in 2016. The Weeknd has been a favorite artist in the R&B world since about 2010; he has always been on the cutting edge of the genre, from making R&B music that borders on Atlanta Trap music to mixing R&B and EDM or Synth-Pop in a way that has not been done in the Mainstream Music world. Over the years, The Weeknd has always become the go-to man in Hip Hop music for a killer feature, having appeared on the chorus on may of the best Trap hits from the last few years. Although it has always been obvious to me that The Weeknd is supremely talented and great at what he does, in my opinion, he has never been able to put together a complete-sounding record. Most of his first three records sound great, but each of them has either had a few duds that just are not as good as the rest of the songs on the record or they have had a few songs on them that do not fit into the sound of the rest of the record. After Hours, on the other hand, is pretty perfectly put together; sonically, it follows a similar 80s Synth-Pop and Electro-Funk vibe throughout the whole record that fits The Weeknd’s vocals perfectly, and the album follows the tragic story of the egotistical-yet-self-loathing villainous persona that he has created for himself(which is also based off of his own life). With all of that being said, let’s just jump into this review! After Hours is the kind of album with a compelling theme that one can immerse themselves in, and that is exactly what we are going to do in this review since the Corona-Virus is preventing us from doing anything else anyway.
Call me up and I’ll send for you. Take me down to you altitude. I don’t know if I can be alone again. I don’t know if I can sleep alone again…
The album starts off on a really melancholy note, with the dazzling track ‘Alone Again.’ This song starts out very lowkey, with The Weeknd singing about partying in Vegas, but feeling like he is someone other than himself. It is like he has been putting on this fun-loving party fiend persona that he is now turning into, much to his own dismay. As the song progresses, the auto-tune on The Weeknd’s voice reach Kanye’s 808s and Heartbreaks levels, and the instrumental transitions from blaring synths with no bass to a guitar-driven emo-trap sort sound that sort of remind me of Juice Wrld. This song is very grand is the sound of it is sort of unexpected compared to the 80s Electro-Funk sound that the singles from the record had, but nonetheless ‘Alone Again’ totally draws me into the album from the start. In the next song, ‘Too Late,’ The Weeknd starts to sing about the failed relationship that has made him lose himself internally; he sings with so much emotion and pain on this song that it is impossible to not feel what he is feeling when you listen to it. This song has a really twitchy sort of instrumental that sounds like a mixture of UK garage music and Footstep; it is the type of upbeat and fast-paced song that is not easy to dance to at all. The way The Weeknd performs this song sort of reminds me of Michael Jackson; it is a great example of how his vocal performances are still improving as he gets older. ‘Alone Again’ was just sort of a teaser for how heart-wrenching the mood of this record is about to get because the next two songs are definitely the most emotionally intense songs of the album. ‘Hardest to Love’ also a similar super twitchy and hard to dance to footwork sort of vibe that is similar to the preceding track, and it actually has a warmer and almost happier sounding synth-driven melody to go along with it. The mood of this song’s lyrics is a total contrast to the melody, with The Weeknd singing about all of the ways that he knows he ruined the best relationship he has been in. The mood of this song is best described by the chorus, which goes: But I’ve been the hardest to love. You’re tryna let me go, yeah. I can see it. I can see it… If ‘Hardest to Love’ is the moment on the record where The Weeknd realized that he is solely the reason his girl left him, ‘Scared to Live’ is the moment where he realizes he can not live without her. If the mood of ‘Hardest to Love’ is mainly of sorrow and regret, ‘Scared to Live’ is a moment where the anxiety and dread of being alone truly sets in. This is one of the first songs I have ever heard by The Weeknd that I would strictly consider a straight-up pop ballad; in a day and age where a lot of what is great in music is because of killer production styles, it is honestly very refreshing and interesting to hear a song like this that forces you to focus on the vocals and lyricism. One of the coolest things about this song is the Elton John sample that comes in the chorus. If you listen to the strangely distorted background vocals in the chorus, they are actually a sample of ‘Your Song’ by Elton. I feel like this sample is very important to the meaning of the track, as ‘Your Song’ is a beautiful love song about convincing someone how you feel, and ‘Scared to Live’ is a beautiful love song about trying to convince someone that your feelings that were taken to be false are in fact real.
‘Snowchild’ has one of the coolest and most eclectic instrumentals on the record; I really like how the sound of this song is totally combining some of the most important musical elements from two completely different eras. ‘Snowchild’ has a typically moody trap beat that is reminiscent of some of The Weeknd’s biggest hits like ‘Might Not’ with Belly or ‘Low Life’ with Future, but the vibe of the melody and riff does not sound like either of these songs at all. This track has a melody and vibe that very reminiscent of 80s new wave and Synth-Pop; I totally get Cyndi Lauper vibes from this song in the best way. Lyrically, this song is sort of an autobiography for The Weeknd, with his singing about how tough his upbringing was, and how he used to self-harm and self-loathing to achieve his dreams. This song is very sad and very blunt, which obviously goes along with the theme of this record super well. I have to admit, the next song, ‘Escape from LA,’ is really the only song on the album that I would just consider a clunker. I mean, for what it is, it does have some pretty cool and trippy production, which is very futuristic and alienistic sounding, but overall this song just kind of bores me. It is basically just a slow trap song that sounds a lot like something that could have been a throwaway from his last EP My Dear Melancholy that came out a couple of years ago. If you love the slow and moody trap vibe of that project, I am sure you will or do love ‘Escape from LA,’ but this one just does not have the amount of quality and effort as the rest of the album does, in my opinion. If there is going to be one clunker, at least it is followed by a certified hit. ‘Heartless’ is one of the singles from this record that was dropped late last year; along with the other single dropped at the same time, it garnered a ton of hype for After Hours, with people already predicting the album will be a classic following the release of these two songs. ‘Heartless’ is a fast-paced Trap joint with a synth-driven melody that sounds like a mixture of 80s Synth-Pop and some sort of futuristic House music. This song has a very cool and unique sound, and The Weeknd’s vocal performance turns ‘Heartless’ into an even more of a hit. On ‘Heartless,’ possibly due to the use of drugs and alcohol, The Weeknd is stating that he is over his break up, claiming that all of his riches and his crazy lifestyle is more important. He is trying to say that he does not need anyone, since he has achieved all of his fame and notoriety by himself anyway, and has never needed any help in the past. If ‘Heartless’ highlights all of the great things about having a drug-addicted and hedonistic lifestyle, ‘Faith’ highlights all of the ways that these things can be tragic. ‘Faith’ has these very bellowing and somber synths that sort of sound like what The Cure would sound like if they made music in 2020. This song is very depressing sounding and is what I would call the 2020 version of Goth music. ‘Faith’ is a strange and beautiful song that will make you not want to know whether you want to dance or you want to cry.
Ooohhh, I’m blinded by the lights. No, I can’t sleep until I feel your touch. I said, oooohhhh, I’m drowning in the night. Oh, when I’m like this, you’re the one I trust…
We have now reached the second chart-topping single from this record, ‘Blinding Lights;’ this is the song that made me and many other people immediately think that this album would be something special. What can I say about ‘Blinding Lights’ that has not already been said? It is a masterful blend of 80s funk and futuristic electro-pop and it is good of a song as he has ever put out. The instrumental sounds just as anxious and longing yet glamorous as the lyrics are; on this track, The Weeknd is admitting that the flashing lights of Las Vegas and hedonistic lifestyle he has been living is no match for the love of the woman that this album is about(it is supermodel Bella Hadid if you were not aware). How can The Weeknd follow such a great and intense song? He does it with the equally great ‘In Your Eyes,’ a passionate ballad that sounds like the sort of song someone would have played outside their high school crush’s window in 1984. I did not think there would be a song on this record that I liked more than ‘Blinding Lights,’ but I do have to say I like ‘In Your Eyes’ more. On this super warm 80s synth-pop melody, The Weeknd sympathizes with how his behavior has hurt and scarred his significant other. He knows and appreciates that there is always a pain in her eyes and behind her smile when she looks at him, and it seems like he really wants to change for the better. ‘Save Your Tears’ brings the mood back to an 80s New Wave sort of vibe, with The Weeknd pleading with his significant other to take him back, despite the number of tears that she has shed because of him. On this track, I think The Weeknd realizes that he is being selfish, but he does not care. Even though he knows that his girls seem way happier when she is not with him, he is pleading for her to come back because he needs her to be happy.
Following that trio of hits is the track ‘Repeat After Me(Interlude).’ Having an “interlude” at the 12th song on an album with 14 songs seems like a strange and bold choice, but this whole album is strange and bold anyway so I guess it kind of makes sense. This track starts out with a psychedelic- pop instrumental and some chanting vocals that are very reminiscent of Tame Impala; Kevin Parker, the main architect behind Tame Impala, provided production for this song, so I guess that makes a lot of sense. ‘Repeat After Me’ progresses into a psychedelic cloud trap joint where The Weeknd seems like he is sort of trying to hypnotize his ex into being with him; as she is trying to tell him that she has found someone else, he is begging her to “repeat after him” over and over again about how she still loves and wants him. Following the interlude, we get the third chart-topping single from this record, the intense, 6-minute experience that is also the title track, ‘After Hours.’ Following about 2 and a half minutes brooding, heavy synths and moody, dreamy vocals, ‘After Hours’ progresses into another sad 80s synth-pop track. This is another song in which The Weeknd is listing all of the reasons that he needs his ex, and pleading for her to come back. All of the hopefulness from some of the earlier tracks is gone; at this point he is on his knees, willing to do anything to have his ex come back to him because he knows that there is no way he can be happy without her. The album comes to a dramatic close with the chilling ‘Until I Bleed Out.’ This track has a sort of similar psychedelic cloud-trap feeling to ‘Repeat After Me,’ with constant trippy sound effects dominating the track as it progresses to bring it a thrilling finish. In this song, The Weeknd states that he has expended all of his energy and that he has nothing left in him to fight for his ex. At this point, he just wants to bleed out and whither away, because he knows that he will never have her and that he will never be happy because of this. It is a super dramatic way to end a very dramatic and tragic album. ‘Until I Bleed Out’ is truly sonically and lyrically a very grand and depressing way to end the whirlwind that is After Hours.
After Hours is a sonically beautiful and diverse record that tells a thrilling story of a man who lets party and substance abuse filled lifestyle driven by his money and fame get in the way of the woman that he loves, who happens to be the only one that can actually give him happiness. Throughout the album, he goes back and forth between feelings of regret and longing for his ex to come back to him, and feelings of fake defiance and letting himself tell himself that all the the drugs and alcohol he consumes can fill the void that he knows they can not fill. Towards the end of the album, he becomes desperate, begging and pleading for his woman to come back, trying to win her over by letting her know about how no matter what he does and who he is with, there is nothing and no one that will ever make him happy besides her. In the end, he realizes that he will never win her back, and wishes that he could just fade away because he knows he will never be happy again. On After Hours, The Weeknd takes the self-loving yet self-loathing persona that he has had on all of his past projects and tells a full, complete story relating to it; this album is very well put together it is so concise in every way. Whether or not you like the sound of the record, there is no way that you can say that it is not very tight and complete. Stream The Weeknd’s After Hours below, and let me know how much you love it and what your favorite songs are in the comments below!