Review: ‘Kiss Land’ by The Weeknd

4/5 Pitchforks

 

If this is your first time listening to The Weeknd (real name Abel Tesfaye), you probably need to prepare for this. This is the “50 Shades of Grey” of music.

But you don’t need to prepare for this album like the readers of “50 Shades of Grey” prepare. That is, this isn’t the type of preparation where you have to light some candles, take a shower and call in sick to work.

For regular decent human beings, I recommend you look into his three free critically acclaimed mixtapes (House of Balloons, Thursday and Echoes of Silence) that he released in 2012. To describe the sounds, I would say that it’s a constant mix of drug influences and sexual consumption with women crooned from a man who has the closest voice to the late Michael Jackson that we have discovered. Download, listen, and if this type of sound interests you, read on.

“Kiss Land” takes a different direction from the mixtapes. Where the mixtapes describe what he is “capable of” toward the attracted sex, “Kiss Land” is more of a reflection for Abel Tesfaye, for himself and the woman he has been through during his trip around the world.

“I went from starin’ at the same four walls for 21 years / To seein’ the whole world in just 12 months” describes the changes he went through from making his mixtapes solely in his hometown Toronto environment, to a sound that is influenced and marketed to be based in Tokyo, Japan. So after a year of touring the world for an artist who croons about women as frequent as Wiz Khalifa raps about weed, is there anything new for The Weeknd to write about?

The first song, perfectly titled “Professional,” explains a lot about how The Weeknd sees himself as an entertainer, where “Adaption” talks about the acceptance of living his life on the road.

Title track “Kiss Land” is a real standout. The song switches up halfway, and both sides of the seven-minute song compliment one another well.

I can’t get enough of the Pharrell mix of “Wanderlust.” The original is good, but this dance mix feels close to a radio single attempt for this sex-driven album just gets me in a groove.

Disappointing is the only guest feature track “Live For” with fellow Toronto citizen Drake. It’s odd, because he has previously collaborated with The Weeknd for “The Zone” and “Crew Love,” that his verse is, at best, basic and forgettable.

The real problem is that production of “Kiss Land” is very much less experimental than his mixtape efforts, which have songs that go from extremely fast-paced and fun to some of the darkest and aggressive songs on this side of RnB (Initiation).

Abel goes the “seven-minute song” route for the majority of the album, in which the song switches tempos and tunes halfway through. But it’s frustrating, because you’ve definitely heard better from him in his previous efforts. The title track is really the only exception.

You have to understand and accept that this is what happens to albums that need to base themselves around a core sound in order to appeal to a more commercialized audience. It is disappointing, after hearing the barrage of sounds in songs on his previous records, to find that his new album’s songs sound like minor variations of the title track.

But I feel that’s what The Weeknd excels at as an artist/producer: choosing the right sound. He can talk about the same things, but it’s the out-of-this-world type of directions he has shown to bring to his music that makes the topics brand new, sonically.

The Weeknd hasn’t changed. From featuring arguably overshadowing artists like Wiz Khalifa, Drake and Juicy J and making their songs become his, it proves The Weeknd doesn’t play nice with others. He makes it clear that he has always been in control of his sound and always will be.

However, I still see two biggest challenges facing The Weeknd’s career:

1.We are living in a post-Robin Thicke world of “I know you want it.” Do music fans really want any more music about sexual seduction, especially with how far The Weeknd pushes those boundaries?

2.The Wiz Khalifa problem: What else is else left for him to do? For a man like The Weeknd, who ends his album with a song about finding out that all females are the same for him (“Tears In The Rain”), what other route of inspiration can he find if there’s no stronger drug, no woman in this world for him?

This is still a good album (buy the deluxe version for the Pharrell mix and Odd Look bonus tracks), but it plays it safe for a man who never knew the meaning of the word “safe.”

 

Must Hear: “The Town,” “Love In the Sky,” “Wanderlust” (both original and Pharrell’s mix), “Odd Look” feat. Kavinsky, “Kiss Land,” “Pretty”

Recycle Bin: “Live For” ft. Drake… or just Drake.

 

Reach the reporter at vqnguye1@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @TaeQuangdoh