by Staff Writer Kruthi Gollapudi
R&B artist The Weeknd released his fourth full-length studio album, After Hours, on March 20, taking listeners on a journey through his troubled state of mind. It has been four years since the singer-songwriter dropped the commercial success, Starboy, and fans have been eager to enjoy more of The Weeknd’s heavenly falsetto and groove-heavy rhythms that regularly dominate the charts. After Hours lives up to expectations — while lacking the several mainstream, radio-friendly hits that were popular in 2016’s Starboy, After Hours favors soothing tempos and sorrowful lyrics to create a cohesive narrative that is sure to leave fans wanting more.
The Weeknd prepared for After Hours’s debut weeks before it came out, capitalizing on the success of pre-released singles “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights” and producing several promotional videos, including an eerie short film set in Las Vegas. This film’s red undertones set the scene for the upcoming fourteen-track album, mirroring its themes of regret and loneliness. It also detailed the adventures of a bloodied character whose joyless persona adds to the record’s seamless arc and solemn, but spine-chilling, storyline.
What makes After Hours so compelling is its gut-punching narrative, putting The Weeknd’s deepest thoughts on full display. The album, which lacks any features, is an ode to loneliness; in its first couple of tracks, The Weeknd expresses his regrets over a broken relationship and holds himself accountable for his own toxicity. In the autobiographical “Snowchild,” he reminisces over his past hardships before reaching his breaking point in “Faith,” lamenting about the pain of hitting rock bottom: “I lost my faith / I’m losing my religion everyday / Time hasn’t been kind to me, I pray.”; His hopeless account of falling off the deep end and amending for past mistakes, complete with seamless transitions between tracks, is tragically touching and deeply emotional.
In addition to a captivating story line, The Weeknd manages to create a stellar soundtrack that elevates the progression of his narrative. His fusion of alternative R&B and classic 80’s synth pop makes the album feel simultaneously retro and vividly futuristic. After Hours’s varying instrumentals contribute to the individuality of each track, such as the flare of 80’s pop recognizable in the fast-tempo dance tunes “Blinding Lights” and “In Your Eyes,” as well as the distinct drum ‘n’ bass beat in “Hardest to Love,” co-produced by Max Martin. What ties everything together, however, is the impeccable flow. Starting off slow and submerged in synth, and then climbing to a lively, pop-heavy peak before descending to a mellow finish, the album’s clear curve allows each track to blend together smoothly and contribute to the sleek, sinister tone that The Weeknd is known for.
In addition to its effortless flow, After Hours succeeds in keeping a consistent tone, but even that eventually becomes dull. The lyrics, production, and The Weeknd’s exceptional vocals are all astounding and brilliantly executed, but even the best of songs can become repetitive. This album is almost an hour long, and throughout its course, The Weeknd sings about sex, money, drugs, and self-hate, never deviating from the dreary tone set by the first song. His melancholy, however heartfelt, fails in offering listeners a glimmer of hope, especially during this time of isolation and seemingly unending quarantine. After Hours doesn’t offer anything exciting or unique, but it is a considerable improvement from past albums. For the first time, he sings with purpose, and this record’s introspective narrative ties together many loose ends.
For the first time, he sings with purpose, and this record’s introspective narrative ties together many loose ends.
Despite a few flaws, After Hours succeeds in being The Weeknd’s deeply personal letter to his audience, communicating a painful tale of loneliness, depression, and wishful thinking. The Weeknd has given it all in After Hours, even when he dejectedly admits in the final track that his countless attempts to escape a perpetual cycle of self-hate are never good enough. And while this may be true, this album does appear to be enough — enough to deserve recognition for its perfect lyrical and musical blend of beauty and madness.