It turns out Abel Tesfaye wasn't done with his latest era. ‘After Hours’ (2020) propelled 80s revivalism forward, introducing a glossier sound and a more narratively-driven style to his project, The Weeknd. After mind-boggling critical and commercial success that most artists dream of, The Weeknd has delivered ‘Dawn FM’ (2022), the purgatorial sequel to ‘After Hours’. The question remains: where can an artist go when he's already seemingly reached his peak? ‘Dawn FM’ (2022) shows us The Weeknd stuck in limbo, with nowhere else but his thoughts and a lonely radio soundtracking his memories.
For the most part, the first half is a collection of tightly-written, high-energy pop songs. With the help of producer Oneohtrix Point Never, Tesfaye is able to become more sonically ambitious, playing with a wider palette of synths and samples. ‘Gasoline’ opens with some deliciously retrofuturistic synths and a playfully robotic accent, narrating his attempts to escape his drug-riddled nightmare. On ‘After Hours’, he famously declared “if I OD, I want you to OD right beside me…” Here, he claims “I know you won’t let me OD” in one of the first seeds of change on the album.
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The Weeknd also takes some risks by including the extended version of lead single ‘Take My Breath’, a modern love letter to disco. It’s seamlessly transitioned into using his breaths as a metronome, leading to a grand, epic opening that was cut from the single edit. The panning on Abel’s voice in the extended middle section is total ear candy that will delight clubgoers and earphone-wearers alike.
Unfortunately, the album hits a snag around track nine, whereupon ‘Best Friends’ demonstrates a dip in quality and consideration. Backed by an oversimplistic bass, ‘Best Friends’ is too short to make a real statement. Its lyrics are forgettable, too, and seem to have been written more as exposition than expression. ‘Every Angel Is Terrifying’, meanwhile, begins with a grandiose synth, but quickly loses steam as it’s interrupted by an informercial that doesn’t seem to add much to the narrative.
There’s some fine twists that The Weeknd pulls off, however – and luckily, the final songs after ‘Every Angel’ manage to deliver in their own ways. ‘Don’t Break My Heart’ features some great vocal rhythms from Tesfaye in his plea for his lover to not break his heart. But shocker – it turns out his lover is married, and he leaves her (“I’m way too grown for this deceiving”). This transitions into the despondent ‘Less Than Zero’, an album highlight worthy to be the next single. Its acoustically-driven instrumentation is surprisingly breezy and carefree, as Tesfaye quietly laments the loss of his lover against the gentle strums of a guitar.
Upon the first listen, I was slightly underwhelmed as it seemed ‘Dawn FM’ had been overly repetitive in where it tread ground. However, everything fell into place once I listened to ‘Phantom Regret’, a stunning outro narrated by Jim Carrey that delivers one final narrative twist. Although the implications it has for the Weeknd’s universe are still uncertain, its message of hope completely transcends the album. Carrey reveals that if The Weeknd still feels regret in the afterlife, “you may not have died in the way that you must.” He leaves us with a genuinely touching sentiment about the purpose of life: “You gotta be Heaven, to see Heaven.”
Despite some pacing issues, ‘Dawn FM’ is a worthy follow-up to ‘After Hours’. Whilst it lacks the character and vivacity of its predecessor, ‘Dawn FM’ develops the latest reinvention of the Weeknd with its dramatic instrumentation and refreshed view of the world.
Words: Alex Rigotti
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