I ended up downloading The Weeknd’s House of Balloons mixtape as a result of a very simple suggestion: “Man, just download it”. I was asking one of my Twitter followers what it was supposed to be after reading a few cryptic tweets hyping the project. I didn’t know what the genre was supposed to be, if The Weeknd represented a group or even if it was supposed to be spelled “The Weeknd” (which I learned yesterday is pronounced “the weakened”). I just downloaded it, not knowing what to expect, which was probably for the best. Upon giving it the first pass while transferring the songs from WinRAR to iTunes, I was impressed. The production quality is top-notch and there’s a common theme amongst the songs, whether played in order or at random. For the purpose of me enjoying the music, I had to just completely ignore the fact that The Weeknd is touted as a “protege” of none other than
Audrey Aubrey “Drake” Graham.
The Weeknd is sometimes referred to as a Toronto-based group (vocalist and two producers), but I have also seen it described as solely the vocalist, Abel Tesfaye, whose vocals take you back to 12-Play-era R. Kelly on certain tracks and notes. The vocals coupled with the production, though very modern, reminds me of an R&B take on Phil Collins (which is a huge compliment, since I’m a fan of Phil Collins), infused with some electronic and alternative influences. Standout tracks like “The Knowing” give listeners some of the vulnerability missing from a lot of today’s R&B, over a track reminiscent of the brooding, ethereal feel of much of Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreaks. The title track is, for lack of better wording, a good-ass time, until I really tuned in on the rap at the end of the song.
After several listens, I began to pick up on some serious flaws. I’m the kind of listener who needs 2-3 listens to truly evaluate a project. The first listen is the “can i even tolerate this” evaluation, where I listen for production quality. The second and third listens are dedicated to the song itself: whether or not I’m moved by the song and the quality of the songwriting specifically. The latter is where The Weeknd falls short, unfortunately. There are certain songs on House Of Balloons where, upon giving it a closer listen, a needle scratched the record in my mind. “Did he just say something about Alize and breakfast cereal?” Yes, he did. “Did he just say ‘let me motherf*cking love you’?” Yes, he did. Over beautiful arrangements. Damn shame.
Anybody who knows me knows I don’t shy away from the use of expletives, but only when they add to whatever I’m saying. The song “Wicked Games” is a prime example of completely unnecessary use of expletives that actually take away from the song. The first verse is littered with the pervasive use of “motherf*cking” in a way that makes it seem that the songwriter couldn’t think of anything else. Otherwise, the song is awesome. Modern R&B suffers from artists choosing to make their music immediately disposable by including name brands, modern slang, and expletives, as if they’re competing with rappers for the same subject matter. Most of the time, this is done over an equally disposable track, but it almost makes me more mad that The Weeknd does the same at times over otherwise quality music.
It seems like The Weeknd’s goal was to go completely in a new direction from most modern R&B with House of Balloons in terms of the sound, artwork, and choosing to allow the music to speak for itself by shrouding himself/themselves in mystery, but in doing that, neglected to put the same creativity and daring into actually writing the songs. This doesn’t make House of Balloons a complete wash or anything that you shouldn’t download if you haven’t already, though. This is dope music that’s leagues beyond what most R&B dudes are doing these days and it deserves some shine. Hopefully, the Weeknd will push the envelope a little more in the right direction on his/their next project and focus on simply making classic music as opposed to trying to shock people with bad words and debauchery. It’s shocking enough that The Weeknd had the balls to shirk the cookie-cutter expectations and create a sound that’s completely unique. Now I’m just waiting for the writing to catch up to the production quality.
“The Knowing” x The Weeknd