The Weeknd – Trilogy

by Edris Nikjooy

The Trilogy is the thirty song trajectory of the tormented persona of The Weeknd, setting off with the drug filled party and crashing with the devouring hangover.

The Weeknd has complied his three mixtapes, freely downloadable, into a re-mastered LP including an un-released song to end each of the mixtapes. The album released on November 9th 2012 came over a year later than the first of the mixtapes, House of Balloons which was mysteriously revealed in March 2011. In between that time Abel Tesfaye amassed a huge following, hooked by the singers’ shrouded identity. With the release of the album however, The Weeknd has shot videos for ʻThe Knowingʼ, ʻWicked Gamesʼ, ʻThe Zoneʼ and ʻRolling Stoneʼ signalling his entrance into the public eye.

The lyrical content of the compilation album follows a similar format of the depiction of a self-pitying, addictive misogynist who is the weakened persona (a possible meaning of the stage name) that bears himself throughout The Trilogy. Abel Tesfaye has created a thirty song mood it seems. It is true almost all of the songs sound very similar; a pained and insecure vocal pleading “Don’t you leave my little life” like in Echoes of Silence teamed with a slow repetitive hi-hat and vocal and instrument faders. The Weeknd’s relationship with both drugs and women seep into all of his songs and serve as his vices. From the outset Abel establishes his power over women with the use of drugs, warning both listeners and the women in his songs that “you wanna be high for this”. This is the hangover from the bravado and gangster personas seen in contemporary R&B and Hip-Hop. The Weeknd is the emblem of the after party where disturbing thoughts are spilled out into the microphone “Give me right attention, I’ll start drowning from my wrist”.

Tesfaye kept true to the same production team of Don McKinney and Illangelo whose laid back intoxicating beats featuring high pitched guitars and striking snares cover most of the tracks, letting Abel’s unaccompanied falsetto pierce through tracks such as ʻComing Downʼ or ʻThe Knowingʼ. Although there are certain tracks where the production is on par with The Weeknd’s voice. The layered vocals and synths on ʻHouse of Balloons/Glass Table Girlsʼ give a powerful boost to the album. Also for me the crowning moment for the production pair is ʻThe Birds Part 1ʼ where the military sounding hi-hats match perfectly with The Weeknd’s stand- off lyrics “Girl I’ll show you this is no game”.

A sinisterness creeps through The Trilogy and reaches climax on tracks like ʻInitiationʼ where the chopped and screwed vocals suggest, if a little heavy handedly, the demonic intentions of Abel and his friends on a helpless woman. The darkness on this song is disturbing and does feel like The Weeknd is alienating listeners from this scene, “the clocks don’t work you don’t gotta check the time/ and the blinds don’t work, you don’t gotta check the sun” If The Trilogy can bring any disappointments they appear sparsely throughout the one and a half hours of listening. The Weeknd, possibly free from label hindrances becomes overly self indulgent in tracks like ʻComing Downʼ and ʻGoneʼ where the spacey eight minute songs drag on for too long without any gripping changes in direction. ʻSame Old Songʼ also contains faults for me; the chorus is uncomfortably pitched and the drawn out vocals sound whiney, whilst Juicy J’s feature here seems disappointingly pointless and crass. Now attached to Universal Republic recording label, The Weeknd will possibly have to change the direction of his music which will be very interesting to witness.

Definitely not stark contrasts to the original 27 tracks, ʻTwenty Eightʼ, ʻValerieʼ and ʻTill Dawn (Here Comes the Sun)ʼ simply treat original fans to more of what they love. ʻTwenty Eightʼ rounds off the first disc House of Balloons with the regret of letting the girl he first enticed into his house of balloons now that she knows “where he sleeps”. ʻValerieʼ truly builds as the song plays and holds back beautifully at the beginning to reach the dramatic wailing of “Cause I love you/ and I need you” towards the end.  ʻTill Dawnʼ ends the album on an accepting note. Abel has come to terms with his debauch lifestyle, “I don’t pretend to have any shame”. Although the original ending track ʻEchoes of Silenceʼ epitomised The Weeknd’s self pity and lonliness, ending in the pathetic plead, “Don’t you leave my little life”, ʻTill Dawnʼ works well in finishing the album on The Weeknd’s terms. The hypnotic pattering drum running throughout the track and the airy fading on Abel’s vocals leave listeners with a chilling end where The Weeknd has accepted himself and doesn’t “pretend to have any shame”.

The Weeknd’s music certainly has influences from Michael Jackson’s and Aaliyah’s soft vocal tone which is seen in his ubiquitous falsettos, but Abel doesn’t seem to involve himself with any mainstream R&B styles. Current contemporaries of The Weeknd may include Usher, Trey Songs, Frank Ocean, Alicia Keys and R. Kelly, however their styles are irreconcilable with The Weeknd. It is not as simple as saying that these other artists are more commercially orientated than The Weeknd but maybe that Abel has stayed the truest to the form of a concept album or persona than most R&B artists. Everything that The Weeknd produces contains the same pained and sinister emotions which by the end of the album can feel tiring, repetitive and as if you’ve been bludgeoned into a sombre state . On his twitter The Weeknd commented that he’s not trying to change or save R&B but “it’s only an influence on the genre I’m slowly trying to craft for myself.”

The album artwork, including the pictures used to accompany his YouTube videos work as perfect accompaniments to the songs themselves. These images depict Abel face down in a bath holding a bottle of XO Hennesy or beautiful fragile women taking precedence in the photos- both of The Weeknd’s vices. The front cover however, a picture probably taken from the video shoot for ‘Rolling Stone’, depicts Abel in the forefront with the women’s face partially hidden. The Weeknd in much of The Trilogy deals with the arguably predictable notion of fearing fame, raised by many such as Kanye West, Eminem and Drake. Although Abel tackles this from the point of view of relative anonymity when he first brought out the mixtapes. With the advent of The Trilogy, The Weeknd has accepted his newfound fame and its dangers which he fears for in songs like ʻRolling Stoneʼ, ʻNextʼ and ʻThe Fallʼ and decides to bear his face to the masses. However this does appear as a self defeating concession, in another twitter post Abel admits “As the world slowly gets familiar with my face, the more you will lose interest” which mirrors poignant lyrics like “I hope I’m not different and I hope they still listen.

The Trilogy has surprisingly reached No.1 in the US on the Billboard 200 despite 27 out of 30 tracks were previously available for free. This commercial success is clearly attributable to the loyalty of The Weeknd’s fans. There is no doubt that this compilation album has been dragged out for a long time now however it is still brilliantly potent on each listening, due to the uncontained emotion displayed in each song which is commendable. As Abel becomes more of a public figure (recently making his first TV appearance on Later with Jools Holland) the more his upcoming music will be eagerly anticipated which seems to be the key characteristic of The Weeknd; his music still makes people want more, whatever the number of times the same songs have been played.

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