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In 2011, “Bring your love, baby I can bring my shame; bring the drugs, baby I can bring my pain” rang through speakers buried deep underground, but each bass kick progressively cracked the concrete until the otherwise enigmatic The Weeknd inevitably rose to riddle the ears of audiences with his raunchy yet tragically romantic musical tales.
His first three releases were remastered and collected into a Trilogy before he was to finally release his first official studio album. And all the things signature to his craft need not even be spoken of…well okay, it’s as if Michael Jackson really did come back as the ‘Thriller’ zombie and put himself back on the airwaves to once again make listeners lose their shit and not know what the hell to do with themselves as these sounds were being poured into their ear holes, taken on a journey to a strange, scary, sexual place with none of their luggage, but all of their baggage.
You have now arrived at your destination. Welcome to Kiss Land.
Back on The Zone (from Thursday), Drake had a particular line which went: “If pole dancing’s an art, you know how many fuckin’ artists I know?” And it seems that The Weeknd has adopted this very line as the ethos for a healthy chunk of Kiss Land, specifically on Professional and Belong To The World. But where the bulk of his ilk would rather choose to cheapen and objectify the art of burlesque, The Weeknd instead brings back that same tragically romantic yet destructively obsessive element his music has been known for throughout his career.
He does stick to the same formula of darkness (drugs, dancers, depression – your basic cocktail of self-destruction and depravity), but it’s one in which he continues to remain unrivalled. What’s different for Kiss Land, however, is how much more centred The Weeknd is compared to the past; previously, it wasn’t too uncommon to hear him singing what would otherwise be amateur-hour braggadocio lyricism which would conflict with the fragility of the rest of the album’s content and his persona. This appears on the titular track Kiss Land (right at home as everything comes crashing down with the smashing drums and screeching synths), but is otherwise absent from the rest of the album and instead gives way to more poetic lyricism that sprinkles the album (particularly on The Town, Love In The Sky, Wanderlust, Tears In The Rain…but especially Pretty).
Of course, as a listener you may choose to build your own story around Kiss Land, and I personally encourage that you do; mine ended up being a sci-fi neo-noir…yep, basically picking up where the strip club scene in Blade Runner left off, I can thank the introduction of Professional, the music video for Belong To The World and of course the title of the final track, Tears In The Rain. But should you choose a particular theme – let’s say, love – then apply it to each song, it’s ecstatically enriching of the experience. And that is in big part thanks to its production.
The production on Kiss Land most certainly makes it almost too easy to conjure up that cinematic create-your-own-adventure concept, with soundscapes swelling of influences of film composers such as Vangelis (Blade Runner) and the almost-deafening hollow ambient sounds of Angelo Badalamenti (the man behind the scores of David Lynch‘s Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway). The echoing drums (and their pounding patterns), the ethereal yet submerging synthesizers and The Weeknd‘s Michael Jackson-like falsetto team up to tread the terrain between tumultuous and tranquil – chaotic yet controlled. And, in his true fashion, there is the share of tracks that have those ominous hijacks halfway through a track, transitioning ever so organically.
Oddly enough, his usual production duo – Doc McKinney and Illangelo – are not behind the beats, but have done a brilliant job in the past in laying the foundations for the sound of Kiss Land, and the album is none the poorer with The Weeknd himself and lesser-known names such as Harry Fraud, Silkky Johnson, and DannyBoyStyles as producers. The drum patterns are certainly not as complex, so there is a trade-off in variety as virtually each track is a heaving, distorted slow jam; but this is in fact a very welcome change which helps the album flow together with more focus as a one hour-long delightfully shifting ambient piece. The exception is the house/nu-disco-tinged Wanderlust, which is arguably the most accessible song on the album, yet with the energy it emits in its beat and Weeknd‘s vocal prowess, it also makes it one of the most addictive and incredibly catchy…and not that guilty kind of catchy either. Not a second of the album is squandered with a dull moment.
Admittedly, when I heard the singles put out in the lead-up to the album’s release (specifically Live For, featuring the album’s only vocal collaborator Drake) I was satisfied but not awestruck. Yet, when hearing each one in the context of Kiss Land, it becomes almost impossible to disseminate the songs from each other as each of the ten blissfully bleeds into the next. Should you snatch up the deluxe edition you will, as a bonus, be treated to Pharrell‘s remix of Wanderlust and a collaborative remix of Kavinsky‘s Odd Look; but though each has their own merits to make them great standalone tracks, Kiss Land does just perfectly fine without them.
The Weeknd treads familiar ground of dark, adult, nocturnal R&B with Kiss Land, which doesn’t leave the listener with much of a surprise if they’ve already gotten their fix of Trilogy; and it is something that audiences may grow tiresome of in the future. But since you are a fan of The Weeknd then you inherently live in the moment…and accordingly, for the present, the Canadian chorister still surmounts his grimy yet glorious, seedy yet seductive uncomfortable comfort zone that is the journey to Kiss Land, and it is not one you and/or that depraved sexual beast within will want to take a detour from any time soon either.
Enjoy your stay.