The Weeknd, like many of us, has spent part of 2020 in pandemic depression.
Feeling “in such a state of uncertainty,” he channeled his feelings into what he planned to be his fifth album, a follow-up to 2020’s No. 1 single “After Hours,” which sparked three polished singles (Save Your). tears” and “blind lights” between them) and incited a lot of drama at the Grammy Awards.
But the results were very dark, and very sad, he said, “emotionally damaging.”
So the Canadian star officially known as Abel Tesfaye rebooted it, turning his creativity to the idea of purgatory and deadlocked in a tunnel, eventually beckoning the light to indicate moving to the other side.
But before you think the concept sounds daunting, The Weeknd enlisted the perfect ambassador to facilitate the trip — a quiet radio host (voiced by new friend Jim Carrey in fun-influenced DJ mode) to keep you company while listening to “Dawn FM.”
Yes, it’s the name of The Weeknd’s new album—the first major hit of 2022—but also the fake radio station that will “steer you into the light…until you’re completely immersed in it,” the singer said during a virtual listening event.
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The title track highlights Carrey assuring listeners that we “will be there to hold your hand and guide you through this painless transition” before Depeche Mode-esque hits begin with “Petrol.”
Kidnapping listeners at the Euro discotheque, The Weeknd adopts a British accent to compose the verses (“It’s five in the morning, I’m high again and you can see I’m in pain”) before his familiar sweet singing pounces on the chorus (“And if you finally die in peace, just roll” My body is in these sheets.” It’s the end of the world as The Weeknd knows it, even dropping the name REM for additional confirmation.
Most of the 16 tracks on “Dawn FM” are packed with shimmering synthesizers that show off The Weeknd’s ongoing passion for new wave and lite-R&B as well as his instincts in melody.
Besides well-placed features (Lil Wayne and Tyler, The Creator), interludes from Carrey and Quincy Jones and clever Dawn FM radio bumpers peppered with songs, “Dawn FM” is an all-night dance party album with a beat that contrasts with its lyrical depth.
Shades of the sliding rhythm of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” “How Do I Make You Love Me?” , while The Weeknd and co-writers Swedish House Mafia intercept a funky guitar loop from Alicia Myers’ 1982 R&B track “I Want To Thank You” for anchoring the song “Sacrifice” that offers multi-layered vocals and a delicious key change.
Working primarily with production wizards Max Martin and Daniel Lopatin (aka OPN), The Weeknd embraces the realities of death while still navigating the intricacies of intimacy.
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By the time Carrey returns for the closing session, “Phantom Regret By Jim,” a Dr. Seuss-like rhyme written by her, the message is complete: “God knows life is chaos, but he made one thing right / It should relax your mind, train your soul to align and dance “Until you find that divine bogaloo,” Carrey reads.
But before reaching the philosophical peak, here are some other highlights along the journey:
‘less than zero’
The indisputable “Dawn FM” top—also dotted with Martin’s fingerprints—is driven by impulse rhythm and embellished with keyboard notes that climb the scales before The Weeknd explodes into a chorus that literally says, “I can’t get it out of my head.” Of course, the reference to romance plagued self-destruction (“Now you’d rather leave me/than watch me die in your arms”), but the massive hook is an instant gem.
After “A Tale By Quincy”, an interview clip from legendary music producer Quincy Jones tells the story of his childhood trauma upon witnessing his mother being led away in a tethered jacket and the effect it has on his lifelong relationships, “Out of Time” delves into The Weeknd’s emotional issues. “I’ve been too cold for those who like me,” he sings to a shimmering tone that recalls DeBarge with her smooth, retro groove.
do not break My Heart
Though full of rote phrases (“Don’t let me down” and “I don’t know if I can take it anymore” make up most of the chorus), The Weeknd’s quirky phrasing drowns out even the most elementary lines in depth. The song begins with a rush of ice rink, neon-lit energy, and builds its ostentation on layers of synthesizer hardware.
‘here we go again’
Embarrassed by the use of fame and sex, but also intrigued by the possibility of developing something real from a fling (“When I laugh it off, I swear it cures my frustrated thoughts”), The Weeknd struggles to fall for someone he knows will break his heart. Enter Tyler, The Creator, with a verse warning, “You have gone and signed this preamble.” With his intertwined feelings, The Weeknd’s top band is pure and flawless as he dances over background vocals from Beach Boys Bruce Johnston and Christian Love (Mike’s son). No, we weren’t expecting that either.