Fresh off the staggering success of his previous album After Hours and following a controversial snub at the Grammys, expectations were high for new music from The Weeknd.
In previous work, The Weeknd had not been immune to nostalgic musical influence, but Dawn FM, Abel Tesfaye’s newest album released on January 7th, offered a chance for the artist to challenge himself, recreating the sound of the smooth, well-produced synth pop and disco that would call back to 80s music powerhouses such as Depeche Mode, Michael Jackson and Giorgio Moroder.
Dawn FM is a triumphant celebration of this 80’s sound, seamlessly transporting the shimmery synth pop sounds into the future contrasted with introspective and even romantic lyrics.
The album is conceptually anchored around a fictional radio station, 103.5 Dawn FM.
Guided by the seemingly otherworldly voice of legendary actor and comedian Jim Carrey as the album’s fictional radio host, The Weeknd leads listeners through purgatory and “into the light” with a melodic, thoughtful tracklist.
The opening lines of the album see The Weeknd announcing “this part I do alone, I’ll take my lead on this road” while Carrey directs us to “accept our fate with open arms”, an immediate show of taking responsibility and a mature approach that sets up 15 tracks grappling with reflection, growth, and the power of hindsight.
Following the intro, “Gasoline” is a strong track that sets the tone of the album. The Weeknd’s pitched down vocals are complimented by a unique beat as he sings about his own nihilism and self-destructive behaviours, reflecting how many of us have been feeling during the last two years of global pandemic.
Following this, standout songs include “Less than Zero”, “Best Friends”, and ‘Here We Go… Again’.
Many of the lyrics throughout are self-reflective, with Tesfaye lamenting a partner wanting to exit their friends-with-benefits arrangement and being honest about his and her feelings in the staccato bass-filled ‘Best Friends’, and reflecting on his celebrity trajectory in ‘Here We Go… Again’.
‘Less than Zero’ features as an upbeat pop anthem near the end of the album, carrying a euphoric beat drop full of glistening synths and punchy drums while The Weeknd reflects on relationships through an infectiously memorable chorus.
While the music throughout is not ground-breaking, the album is a coherent, cool cruise through The Weeknd’s personal growth, with the 80’s synth pop sounds providing a welcome change from other modern mainstream artists. With help from fellow creators such as Tyler, The Creator, Quincy Jones, Lil Wayne and Swedish House Mafia, The Weeknd supplies some dark synth pop that provides a welcome fantasy of escape.
Dawn FM’s concept is a little hard to grasp with more existential, self-reflecting themes than the Weeknd’s previous work, but ultimately, the album carves its own identity from his other hits. The album as a whole feels like the first steps on a journey for the Weeknd to find peace with himself; perhaps the next time we hear from him, he’ll be fully embracing the light of day.
By Andrew Walsh
Imagine credit: LADbible