On ‘My Dear Melancholy,’ The Weeknd returns to his signature “tortured soul” and builds a bridge between both his older and newer fanbases.

In 2016, The Weeknd as fans knew him was laid to rest. Though he maintained his stage moniker, the persona of The Weeknd was left behind to make way for “Starboy.” Abel Tesfaye cut his hair, abandoned his signature hazy R&B to tinker in electronica and pop, and literally killed off the “old him” in the video for ‘Starboy’s’ titular lead single.

The reinvention was mostly a success. The Weeknd wore his more clean-cut look well. His collaborations with Daft Punk, Cashmere Cat, and Diplo helped him be embraced by new audiences. He not only got to perform to perform “I Feel It Coming” at last year’s Grammys, but the album itself won a Grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album, too. He even linked back up with Drake for the first time since 2011’s ‘Take Care’ in “Reminder’s” visuals. Oh, and ‘Starboy’ topped the Billboard charts and was certified platinum. Even The Weeknd’s appearance alongside Kendrick Lamar on the recent ‘Black Panther: The Album’ had pop leanings.

But many of the fans who had known The Weeknd’s beginnings weren’t too keen on his transformation. Sure, “Party Monster” was a groove, but they were perfectly okay with the guy responsible for slightly self-destructive, hypnotic joints like “What You Want” and “The Birds.” This new guy was unfamiliar to them, and they weren’t sure if they liked the change.

Enter last week, when The Weeknd took to Instagram to reveal the surprise release of a new project, ‘My Dear Melancholy.’ Everything about its rollout seemed to reference The Weekend of old. Its title, right down to the comma in its name, was the start of an obviously depressing address. To say nothing of ‘Melancholy’s’ cover art, doused in shadow and warm tones unlike the bright and loud movie-poster nature of ‘Starboy’s’ artwork. It looked the part, but the contents would tell the final story.

Six tracks deep, the only commonality between ‘My Dear Melancholy,’ and ‘Starboy’ are Cirkut and Frank Dukes, who have production credits on both projects (Dukes produced all but one of ‘Melancholy’s songs). The rest of the boardwork comes from the likes of Gesaffelstein, Marz, Daheala, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, Skrillex, and Mike WiLL Made-It. But before The Weeknd’s haunting vocals even step out, Dukes’ hushed keys on album intro “Call Out My Name” are all listeners need to know that the sound many thought had been lost, has been found again. In fact, just like The Weeknd’s earlier projects, ‘Melancholy’ is entirely feature-free.

“Wasted Time” sounds like the natural successor to “Coming Down” from ‘House of Balloons.’ “I Was Never There” carries itself along like a drug-addled carousel ride, the titular “melancholy” surfacing on lines like “This happiness was not for me.” Then, Gesaffelstein and Dukes flip the script at “I Was Never There’s” halfway mark, slowing the beat to a crawl like a dark, winding jack-in-the-box that’s perfect for The Weeknd’s tortured voice. “Hurt You” may be the closest thing on ‘Melancholy’ with a Starboy-like sound, as the singer does his best George Michael impression over a flute, kickdrums, and keys.

Maybe ‘Starboy’ was a departure from Abel Tesfaye’s sound and now he’s back to his old self again. Or perhaps The Weeknd heard the critics of ‘Starboy’ and chose to release a project that says, “Don’t get it twisted – I may have cut my hair but I can still do what I used to do.” Then again, one shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking the “Starboy” persona is gone, either, because there’s a ‘Starboy’ Marvel comic coming this summer. But ‘My Dear Melancholy,’ does exactly what it needs to do. It’s an EP, not an album, after all – and it’s just long enough to shut up anyone who may have doubted the Canadian crooner.

Take a listen to The Weeknd’s ‘My Dear Melancholy’ EP in full down below. The project can be purchased now off iTunes.

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