Almost seven years to the day after the release of The Weeknd’s galvanizing debut mixtape, “House of Balloons” — an outing that basically created the dark-alt-R&B sound that so many artists have built careers on — the prolific Abel Tesfaye says hello to darkness, his old friend on a new six-song/22-minute EP whose title is pure truth in advertising: “My Dear Melancholy,” (and that’s not a typo — the official title includes a comma at the end, like the beginning of a letter).
True to its sort-of surprise arrival — it was teased, fairly obviously, in the week leading up to its release — the outing feels like an interlude in a career that’s already featured several big statements and changes of direction. There are no blockbuster hit singles like “I Can’t Feel My Face” or “Starboy,” but the melodic directness and Michael Jackson vocalisms of those songs is here, just buried under clouds of sad synthesizers and downcast beats — for example, a peppy remix could transform “Hurt You” into a shiny suit rather than the dark hoodie it’s wearing here.
Unlike his early work, “Melancholy” is more of a Weeknd take on crying-in-your-beer ballads than existential brooding. And with lyrics like “I don’t want to wake up if you’re not laying next to me”; “I’mma drink the pain away, I’ll be back to my old ways”; “We said our last goodbyes, so let’s just try to end it with a smile,” approximately 23 minutes after “Melancholy” dropped, the Internet was alight with wonderers wondering whether these songs are post-Selena/Bella breakup ballads.
We’ll leave that to them, but musically the album features several previous collaborators (Cirkut, Daheala, Mike Will Made It, Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo) as well as co-executive producer and fellow Canadian Frank Dukes (Frank Ocean, Camila Cabello, one track on “Starboy”), Skrillex, French producer Gesaffelstein and Chilean broodmaster Nicolas Jaar. All help bring in the darkness, although their contributions aren’t instantly recognizable and meld into The Weeknd’s overall vibe. (There’s also a hook that sounds like the crazy theme from Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” — that wailing screech when the picture blanches and Uma Thurman has a dark flashback — grafted into “I Was Never There.”)
So as best can be told in a morning-after hot take, “My Dear Melancholy,” feels more like a transition, a way station on the journey to wherever The Weeknd is going next — and it’s a credit to this prolific and ever-evolving artist that he manages to be creatively restless and never stay in the same place for long while always sounding unmistakably like himself.
- Call Out My Name (prod. Frank Dukes)
- Try Me (prod. Mike WiLL Made-It, Marz, Frank Dukes & Daheala)
- Wasted Times (prod. (Frank Dukes; co-produced by Skrillex)
- I Was Never There (prod. Gesaffelstein & Frank Dukes)
- Hurt You (prod. Gesaffelstein, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo; co-produced by Cirkut)
- Privilege (prod. Frank Dukes & Daheala)