On “Coming Down”, a cut off his seminal House of Balloons, The Weeknd is lonely. He’s been bad again. Popping pills and lying (to nobody but himself and you and himself, but you, especially). “Coming Down” has The Weeknd lucid, desperate, too. The high that much of his introductory mixtape was derived from was crashing – and crashing fast, at that. Suddenly, his desire became less scattered and mindlessly indulgent, honed in on one person. A person who, for Weeknd, had the capability to provide their own unique high in lust or maybe, love. A person who, for the life of him, wouldn’t pick up their phone, no matter how much he pleaded. “Coming Down” – in its moan-heavy, yearning delivery – narrated a solemn return to consciousness. Where tracks like “High For This” and “What You Need” captured a sexy pursuit, “Coming Down” was the freefall of the din’s end. “The party’s finished and I want you to know,” he soberly sings. “I’m feelin’ everything before I got up.”
2011’s House of Balloons chronicled destruction at The Weeknd’s behest. But it's in “Coming Down” where his pen’s balance is thrown. Power, so it seemed, was not in The Weeknd’s grasp. In “Coming Down.” lust is love by another name – dependent and flighty and unhealthy, in true Weeknd fashion, but a sort of love, all the same.
My Dear Melancholy,, the surprise follow-up to the pop-charting Starboy, is not a full-circle moment for the singer, no matter how familiar it sounds. At first play, the bits and pieces of his original sonic signature can be quickly identified. His singing is elongated and mournful; his production is devoid of the dance-friendly quality of Starboy, instead favouring the instrumentation of his earlier work. On the album, he’s moody and resentful. A cursory listen connects the tissue between the two projects – or albums, or mixtapes, or EPs; it was never quite clear. But to compare My Dear Melancholy, to House of Balloons is to superficially assess the two. To take them in half-heartedly, during daylight hours. And any fan of The Weeknd’s music knows that in consuming it, there is one stipulation: you have to be willing to let him bring you low, way down low, into the throes of self-inflicted anguish with him. And when you get there, things are crystallised. On House of Balloons, Weeknd was a one-person storm, but on My Dear Melancholy,, he is virtually powerless, his fate tied to another’s. With seven years separating the two projects, some change is expected in tone, style, narrative. But the transformation from Weeknd as emotional aggressor to Weeknd as hurt over-lover is an unlikely turn for the crooning masochist.
The cause of his pain (that is, the pain that’s left him crumpled on the floor, gutted and unable to move on) matters to his story. And on My Dear Melancholy – what at first glance, appears to be an album documenting a break-up or two – that cause changes from a deep-set discontentment with worlds, shared and internal, to something more universal. There was no shame in a broken heart, in love lost. So, the question is this: what does Weeknd stand to gain from this shift? And what does he stand to lose?
On the project’s first track and instant stand-out, “Call Out My Name,” Weeknd screams of betrayal. “I put you on top, I put you on top / I claimed you so proudly and openly / And when times were rough, when times were rough / I made sure I held you close to me,” he spits at the object of his tyrannical affection. He goes on, in “Call Out My Name” and throughout the length of the Melancholy, to sing about his selflessness in a selfish relationship (or a couple). He’s frustrated with the rejection of what he calls his “gentle love.” Time, too, on My Dear Melancholy, is of the essence. The project is concise, at six tracks and just 22 minutes long. (Starboy, in comparison, clocked in at 68-minutes). On the album, time is something he feels robbed of. In his memory, it is squandered, unaccounted for, and slow in its ability to heal his wounds. But maybe, it isn’t time that he mourns. Maybe, it is his own stagnancy that truly tortures him.
And while My Dear Melancholy, is a piecemeal stylistic return, the meat of the project—insofar as its lyrical content – retains much of the pop sensibilities of Starboy-era Weeknd. That’s how “Try Me,” a song that like “Coming Down” is a request to keep the party going, has Weeknd utilising his recently broadened vocal range, creating a new mood of it entirely. His yelps, heard throughout the track’s run-time, show him coyly leaning into the two-bit MJ comparisons that have plagued his career for as long as he’s had one, especially so in the Starboy era. (The album cover has a hilarious, unforeseen connection to MJ, too.)
“I Was Never There”, put in no uncertain terms, is a trip. Easily the album’s darkest song, it features Gesaffelstein (Kanye West, Lana Del Rey) as both co-writer and co-producer. (The track is co-produced by frequent collaborator, Torontonian Frank Dukes). “What makes a grown man wanna cry? / What makes him wanna take his life?” he asks in its opening lines, bare in a way that feels more dramatic than earnest. Faced with the karmic retribution of lovers scorned, Weeknd was distraught. That’s what he’s attempting to convince, at least. And for Weeknd’s fatal kryptonite to be a bruised heart – as opposed to the vices he uses as a crutch, or the dreams and insecurities that terrorise him – is peculiar at best. But this torment was ordinary. In this suffering, there were answers, solutions.
And it’s in Weeknd’s latest offering that his darkness, even, is stumblingly scrubbed clean of its demons. With Melancholy, Weeknd’s depression was declawed, too. Now, he’s transitioned fully into pop, in the House of Balloons-esque despair of My Dear Melancholy, and in the crossover success of Starboy. This strand of dread, fuelled by romantic failings, was not nameless and totalisingly affecting, like the traumas that had previously been his thematic go-tos. What My Dear Melancholy, does is bridge the gap between the two iterations of Weeknd lore – not to be confused with the metamorphosis of Abel Tesfaye, the man behind the performance. And it is in this six-track project (or mixtape, or album, or EP) that he kills his restless vagabond, full of paranoia and poison, once and for all.
Amani Bin Shikhan is a writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter .
This article originally appeared on Noisey CA.