Albums Of The Week

The Weeknd's Starboy contains plenty of drama and depth

The Weeknd has injected plenty of 1980s touches throughout Starboy.
The Weeknd has injected plenty of 1980s touches throughout Starboy.PHOTO: REUTERS

Starboy is The Weeknd's take on R&B with 1980s nu-wave influences

Abel Tesfaye, or The Weeknd, has gone from underground act to bona fide international pop star.

But the old Tesfaye, the sad boy from Scarborough, Ontario, is never too far away, still struggling with the trappings of fame. On Party Monster, he has to reassure himself with "I'm good, I'm good, I'm great" over a dark, gritty beat.

Surrounded by a stripper party and the aftermath, he just wants "a girl who go'n' really understand". But like a siren whispering in his ear, the sultry Lana Del Rey tells him "you're paranoid".

Indeed, The Weeknd need not worry. There is plenty of drama and depth in songs here that will easily get clubs bumping.

His latest effort is a heady take on sleepy-eyed R&B by way of 1980s nu-wave, complete with pop production that delivers banger after banger.

The lengthy 18-track album is bookended by Daft Punk productions, namely the chart-topping titular track Starboy and the smooth, utterly infectious I Feel It Coming, a spectacular, slow-burning track where it is as if the ghost of Michael Jackson has come to life to sing on it. Whether it is the falsetto vocals, sexy bassline or the swaying, melancholic melody, I Feel It Coming will have listeners feeling it for sure.

  • R&B

  • STARBOY

    The Weeknd

    XO/Republic

    4/5 stars

The past also visits elsewhere. Tesfaye borrows a line from The Romantics' Talking In Your Sleep ("I hear the secret that you keep, when you're talking in your sleep") on the psychedelic Secrets, and with pounding synths makes the frantic False Alarm seem like a new-age Billy Idol number on steroids.

With that many 1980s touches throughout the album, you half expect the track named True Colors, to be a Cyndi Lauper-type number. Instead, it is a sweet, slow R&B love song, containing "confessions of a new lover", imploring his girl not to break his trust.

Harder hip-hop is not forgotten. On Sidewalks, he employs rapper du jour Kendrick Lamar and an uncredited vocal showing by British crooner Sam Smith. Lamar, as expected delivers rapid-fire raps dripping with truth, even as Tesfaye bares all ("I ran out of tears when I was 18/So nobody made me but the main streets"), more so than on any other track here.

But for all the hits, one cannot help feeling he could have rid the 68-minute-long album of some fat, such as the less successful and slower tracks (Nothing Without You, barely recognisable as a Diplo production).

Starboy is strong enough to keep The Weeknd in the pop stratosphere. The fillers are perhaps just needless manifestations of his insecurity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2016, with the headline 'Album with depth and drama'. Print Edition | Subscribe