The Weeknd – Kiss Land
Released: September 10, 2013
Label: XO, Republic
Producer: DannyBoyStyles, Jason “DaHeala” Quenneville, Silkky Johnson, The Weeknd
Genre: Contemporary R&B, Post-Dubstep, Modern R&B, Neo Soul
02 The Town
04 Love in the Sky
05 Belong to the World
06 Life For (feat. Drake)
08 Kiss Land
10 Tears in the Rain
Kiss Land. The title does promise a lot. Think about how other artists would have used that title. If R. Kelly or Marvin Gaye had that title they would probably be the ones who would turn in to a some kind of Sexual All-Planet Orgy. Justin Timberlake would scent it with his distinct aroma of bubblegum pop that never fails to please the crowd. Robin Thicke would get another try at trying to look cool but failing. Abel Tesfaye promised us “it would be all lovey-dovey” but at the same time: “when you hear the screams in the record and you hear all these horror references and you feel scared, listen to the music because I want you to feel what I’m feeling. Kiss Land is like a horror movie.” Unfortunately poor Abel must not be feeling well at all. Although he’s one of my favorite artists and I too enjoy slipping and sinking into his endless pool of desperation and sadness, I have to speak the truth. This is his first major-label release and he took the project extremely seriously. That can only lead to one thing: A hilarious self-parody which leads to a tragic irony because Abel Tesfaye is the only one that doesn’t realize it.
Kiss Land is dolorous, hook-averse, emotionally despondent, and says appalling things to women 85% of the time, but that was also true of Trilogy, and that was a success! Two things could have happened here: The first being, the success of Trilogy boosted his ego to irreversible proportions and the album turned out to be a self-proclaimed masterpiece of “deep emotion” avante-garde pop and “hipster R&B”. And second; (and personally what I think is the truth) this is how bleak Abel Tesfaye really feels. The earlier material also had some indelible melodies, innovative textures, and all-consuming atmosphere. Kiss Land does manage some of the latter two qualities, (especially the last!) but to seriously diminishing returns.
This album is the result of what happens when music and sampling nerd get access to major label fees and the best engineers in the world. Yes, there was a lot of haunting sampling in this record. The chopped and screwed Emika sample that was featured on “Professional” along with its menacing drum programming makes the track sound like someone tried to take a V.I.P. section of a club and tried to turn it into “Atrocity Exhibition”. On “Adaptation” he took The Police and made the sound like the haunted apparitions that were left off of Yeezus. The most famous sample, or not, is the unmistakably slightly reconfigured “Machine Gun” sample from Portishead‘s Third. Although its’s jacked up to a lovelorn and punishing speed it’s still recognizable. I’ll have to go back to Geoff Barrows statement and say that one artist should respect another. The best songs here bring The Weeknd closer to where the project started on the comparatively pop-oriented House of Balloons. “Wanderlust” features a more upbeat disco sound with a surprisingly cheery vigor’ pitching up the vocals instead of screwing them down. “Live For”, a collaboration (and the only one on the album) with Drake, signifies a slight hint of happiness in all this self-pity and misery, even though Abel Tesfaye is too devoid of emotion to express it. It’s basically a re-written version of “Crew Love”. My point here is that most of these songs sound good individually but make a pretty pass-it-on album. In the sense that most of these songs when put together in the album they drift on by without turning a few heads.
So while Kiss Land creates an immersive atmosphere, it rarely feels grounded with a sense of place. On Trilogy, Toronto established a tangible setting, where Tesfaye was beginning to become a “somebody in a nobody town”, to quote “Professional”. Sure, he was palling around with Drake and was a star by the time the set was halfway finished, but he was still subject to freezing winters, hanging around club kids still living with their parents, “drinking Alize with our cereal for breakfast.” On “Kiss Land”, Tesfaye moans “I went from staring at the same four walls for 21 years/ To seeing the whole world in just 12 months.” Judging from the results, it’s as if The Weeknd has traveled the world only for Tesfaye to realize it revolves around him. No wonder “Belong to the World” was filmed in Tokyo, Japan.
“You can meet me in the room where the kisses ain’t free/ You gotta pay with your body” i feel defines the lyrical themes in the album. They will often come out as embarrassing in a way they came out in House of Balloons. Everyone here is complicit and compromised, which is key to understanding the draw of such overtly nihilistic music. Overfamiliarity aside, its joylessness becomes some kind of perverse asset. The Weeknd’s world is cruel, but unbiased; the accusations of misogyny are tempered (somewhat) by the fact that Tesfaye appears to mistrust everyone equally, with the exception of Drake. He can only offer you what any misanthropist probably would: “This ain’t nothing to relate to even if you tried.” Translation: Avoid him unless you are prepared to indulge in whatever twisted sexual fantasy, indulge and command he has planned for you. The only good lesson from Kiss Land is: If you are in no position to judge, just don’t. He might take it to the extreme and don’t even seek redemption though.
And that turns out to be a lot of us. Kiss Land is technically the Weeknd’s fourth album in two and a half years, and without the ear-turning innovation of the earlier work, all you can muster in reaction to its worldview, the same one that’s been delivered repeatedly without variation, is, “Maybe it’s you, man.” Which in a way, vindicates it: Kiss Land sounds every bit as isolated and singular as Tesfaye feels.
“Belong to the World”