Reviews by mars
The Weeknd’s Dawn FM review: the pop icon takes listeners on a journey towards the light on his monumental victory lap (8/10)
The Weeknd has traversed his career’s narrative by boomeranging between the darkness and the light: from Trilogy and Kiss Land’s hazy roots to the pop-leaning, mass appealing Beauty Behind the Madness and Starboy back to the one-two punch of My Dear Melancholy, and After Hours. His most recent studio effort dropped on March 20, 2020 - if that date doesn’t send chills down your spine… Released just days into the COVID-19 global shutdown, After Hours’ darker moments reflected the global sentiment as everyday life as once known came to an end while its uptempo efforts mirrored escapism triggered by the pandemic. It was quite the flex, being the first major artist to drop a net-new project during the pandemic era with no fear of impacting chart performance due to nonexistent promotional appearances and arenas being closed down for the foreseeable future. Nothing could stop the fierceness of “Blinding Lights” from captivating global audiences and becoming the biggest Billboard Hot 100 hit of all time.
With such a monumental era behind him, Tesfaye decided to embrace brighter days. He said so long to the bloody and bruised Sin City nights by releasing “Take My Breath,” a disco-inspired introduction to a new Abel. He assured fans that “the dawn is coming,” and Dawn FM is just that: a light at the end of the tunnel.
Dawn FM (released January 7, 2022) is a brilliantly produced effort from one of pop’s biggest stars, conceptually based around a DJ Jim Carrey-hosted radio station guiding listeners in purgatory towards the final light. Following the success of After Hours, The Weeknd began work on a similarly harsh follow-up but ultimately opted for a more optimistic approach. In the album's opening moments, the title track has The Weeknd introducing listeners to the journey ahead. “This part I do alone / I’ll take my lead, I’ll take my lead on this road,” he sings before Carrey chimes in as tour guide. “You’ve been in the dark for way too long / It’s time to walk into the light.” His tone is chilling, yet comforting as he assures that he’ll “be there to hold your hand and guide you through this painless transition.”
It appears that The Weeknd’s transformation from shadowy R&B wiz to pop maximalist is complete on Dawn FM. While the latter faces criticism for its sometimes surface level lyricism and calculated hooks, the album showcases The Weeknd’s knack for melody - and like its predecessor, it wonderfully compliments the album’s bold, purgatorial concept. Despite Dawn’s dark (and aged) album cover, the music is distinctly lighter than much of The Weeknd’s previous work in both its themes and sonic range. The album’s lyrics may not be Abel’s most thought-provoking work, but they’re more vulnerable than ever before.
Across the entirety of Dawn FM are boldly produced synthpop masterpieces by Max Martin, Swedish House Mafia, and Oneohtrix Point Never. Abel and his A-team continue chasing the ‘80s pop highs of recent smashes like “Blinding Lights” and “Save Your Tears,” but this time, they dive even deeper down the rabbit holes of retrofuturism, disco, and new wave. Its hooks are electrifying, its production choices ranging from newly minted Weeknd staple to experimental surprises. Highlights include the seamless transition from “How Do I Make You Love Me?” into the extended version of lead single “Take My Breath.” The track’s almost six-minute-long runtime gives this euphoric summer hit plenty of room to breathe. It may not be as immediately an earworm as its After Hours synth cousins, but there’s no denying the song’s adrenaline-building ability.
Latest single “Sacrifice” is an infectious smash in the making, complete with an electric guitar loop built for dance floors around the world. It’s possibly the closest thing to a peak Michael Jackson pop song we have in modern music. Much of Dawn FM sounds as if it originated in the days of larger-than-life hair and neon leg warmers, but “Sacrifice” captures the essence of what made the era’s sound so intoxicating while adding some modern day spice into the mix.
Much of the album centers around the highs and lows of romance and self-realization. It’s largely Tesfaye’s emotional openness that makes Dawn FM so accessible. On the dream-like, Off the Wall inspired “Out of Time,” he acknowledges his past mistakes and attempts to serenade his former love for another shot at love. It’s a massive showing of growth for the man who boasts on Starboy’s “Reminder” about winning a Kids Choice Award for a song about a face-numbing drug encounter. He recognizes that she may be better off without him, but tells of always leaving the door open. “Is There Someone Else?” and the Lil Wayne assisted “I Heard You’re Married” show contrasting sides of love triangles. “I know that look you give when we’re fighting / ‘cause I used to be the one who was lying,” he confesses on the former while the latter depicts his knowledge that “this is a fling, but you’re hidin’ someone’s ring.”
Maturity and reflection run rampant across the album as well. “Gasoline” begins with The Weeknd trying out his best English accent before hoping that his lover “won’t let [him] OD,” a complete 180 from After Hours’ “Faith” (“But if I OD, I want you to OD right beside me). Featuring production from Beach Boy Bruce Johnston and a verse by Tyler, the Creator, the smooth “Here We Go… Again” has Tesfaye looking back on a stellar off-year complete with record-shattering chart performance, a Super Bowl halftime show, and “a quarter bil’” more in the bank while navigating feelings of falling in love again. “Life’s a dream ‘cause it’s never what it seems / But you’d rather love and lost with tears than never love at all,” he admits - quite the proclamation from one of music’s biggest bad boys. But self-improvement is not always a straight shot as seen on “Best Friends,” where Abel does his best to protect a friends-with-benefits relationship in fear of getting too close.
DJ Carrey wraps the album up with another eerily captivating recitation. “Heaven’s for those who let go of regret / And you have to wait here when you’re not all there yet,” he shares. The poem not only wraps up the album, bow and all, but also The Weeknd’s journey to date. There may be uncertainty on the road ahead, but passion is what ultimately transcends here. Dawn FM is a glimmer of hope both personally for The Weeknd and for fans as we all enter yet another year of pandemic life. The album isn’t without its struggles - it suffers from pacing at times and a few filler entries that distract from the album’s cohesive mission. Dawn FM is ultimately an album crafted by an artist confident in his creative vision (reasonably so), now able to take a deep breath and step forward towards embracing brighter days.
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NY-based, 26-year-old, music-obsessed and loves to write about it.