Dawn FM, by the Weeknd
There is little question that the Weeknd has been a bit overexposed over the last couple of years. Of course, that is largely due to the fact that After Hours was one of the most successful releases of the last few years in terms of singles with longevity, with three #1hits in three consecutive years with “Heartless,” “Blinding Lights,” the most successful fond in current pop history, and “Save Your Tears,” along with the moderate hit “In Your Eyes.” And if that was not enough, Abel found himself hopping in on what seems like dozens of other singles for a wide variety of artists ranging from Post Malone, Swedish House Mafia, to Doja Cat, some of which ended up being proper hits in their own right. So, it is perhaps understandable that after hearing him so often, and seeing him so often in the charts, some of us thought it might have been wise for him to take a bit of time off, but no, here he comes with a full-length LP only a bit more than two years after his previous album was released. So, how is it?
The album begins with an intro “Dawn FM,” which features some gorgeous harmonies and a radio commercial for the album. “Gasoline” has a spare beat and begins with the artist in a strange voice (for him), but reflecting on emptiness, a mood that fits that fits the rather spare production before going to a more regular sound of his voice. “How Do I Make You Love Me?” has some classic 80’s production and echoes a frequent concern of the artist and many others in wondering, a catchy song that seems an obvious potential single, and one that blends right into “Take My Breath,” the first single from the album and a moderate hit in its own right. “Sacrifice” paints the singer in a rather dark light, struggling with someone he finds attractive but doesn’t want to get entangled with, not willing to sacrifice for her. “A Tale By Quincy” is a spoken word discussion by someone with a dramatic upbringing with mother issues set to a funky beat. This segues into “Out Of Time,” which shows a love that appears to be impossible because the would-be partner has closed her heart, ending with a short radio ad for the fictional radio station. “Here We Go….Again,” (featuring Tyler The Creator) is introduced as easy listening, but it features some pointed discussion about the darker side of celebrity relationships with vocals alarmingly like a Michael Jackson song, again ending with a radio station promo.
The second half of this album begins with “Best Friends,” another song that discusses the tension between friendship and intimacy and the way that the feelings change what people want with each other. “Is There Someone Else,” with chipmunked beginning vocals, contains the artist struggling with jealousy and the knowledge that his partner is keeping secrets from him, despite his longing to be with her forever and facing his own past mistakes. This song blends seamlessly into “Starry Eyes,” which features rather chilly production and a discussion of the relationship between two people struggling with brokenness striving to commit to love each other. “Every Angel Is Terrifying” is a suitably ominous song with a talking part set to some 80’s production that appears to be a sort of commercial break within the album that advertise a dark vision of the afterlife. “Don’t Break My Heart” features more odd vocal production, but shows the struggles of people dealing with repeated heartbreak and its ominous repercussions on sensitive people. “I Heard You’re Married” (featuring Lil Wayne) is a song that definitely reflects on a failure of communication about a rather important fact in someone’s life. “Less Than Zero” has 80’s production (and a title that references 80’s pop culture) that also deals with the tension between wanting someone and knowing one will never be anything to them. The final song, “Phantom Regret By Jim,” contains another lengthy radio promo that hints at the radio station being an aspect of divine judgment, along with more 80’s references that come too fast to count, almost.
In many ways, this album is a showcase of Abel’s beloved 80’s production and a continued effort to mine relationship problems, melancholy, and self-loathing, themes that run through his body of work as a whole. Yet this album certainly is not stale, as it serves as an impressive concept album of an 80’s radio station that also doubles as an unfriendly guide to one’s afterlife, prompting the listener to think of regrets and mistakes, opportunities missed in relationships, or relationships with unsuitable and unreliable and immoral people who keep rather important secrets from those who love them. Indeed, as a listener of this album who is fond of progressive rock by such acts as the Alan Parsons Project, this feels like it belongs in that sort of conversation of an album that is greater than the sum of its parts, perhaps not filled with too many obvious single choices, but an album that feels like a compelling and coherent album worth listening to beginning to end and pondering on what it means to face judgment for a life that has not been well lived and that the artist is holding himself accountable for, with a lot of regret in the process.