Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The Weeknd - Kiss Land


When executed professionally, rhythm and blues can be an untouchable genre. We know it as contemporary R&B, or the post-Motown soul. The big names will never be expelled from the history books. Memories of Michael Jackson's Thriller and Whitney Houston's self-titled debut album will forever be cited by future R&B artists as classic influential albums that united soul with pop. Thriller is the quintessential pop album of the 80s. Jackson's vocal range, the disco beat, the horrifying werewolf scene....It all leads to a 00s rejuvenation of creative freedom within the bounds of R&B. The use of sampling and re-creating ideas is becoming an association for R&B. Frank Ocean's Nostalgia, Ultra is from start to finish an inspiration. It's an idea of set musical influences that apart from keeping us entertained, manage to impact our lives. Elton John with Ocean's "Super Rich Kids", Curtis Mayfield on Justin Timberlake's "Suit & Tie", and the cast of 70s/80s music on The Weeknd.

Abel Tesfaye is commonly known as The Weekend, but before his identity was revealed, he was just... the maker of House of Balloons. He released three mixtapes in 2011, House of Balloons in March, Thursday in August, and Echoes of Silence in December. The mystery has now gone, but the memory of The Weeknd's short lived anonymity will be remembered for its progressive cult following of electronic-turned-R&B fans. The jig was up for The Weeknd, his mixtapes had become as popular as the scouse impression. Universal Music subsidiary Republic Records signed him up and released the compilation album Trilogy late last year. There’s not a lot to write home about, Trilogy was just the necessary popularity enlargement that his music needed. Backed and funded by UMG, The Weeknd now has his work cut out to make his music career work. Debut album Kiss Land is finally on the playing field, and we're the opposition about to tackle it - not like the teen girls that cheer and wave.

You would think The Weeknd's sampling ability has been restricted for Kiss Land - this isn't the case. His three EPs are a Girl Talk-esque sampling free for all. A studio album ran by a label cannot possibly be paying off artists left right and centre just for a sample, even if it makes a song, the song. The reason big name hip-hop artists turn to expensive producers is because they can't freely sample what they want like Public Enemy or Beastie Boys could do in the 80s. Kiss Land isn't too stripped back and separated from the sampling scene as first imagined. One of its best tracks is built around a spectacular sample of Portishead's "Machine Gun". This sample, although produced well, reveals The Weeknd's short comings. His track development used to be about the grinding electronic synth and 80s pop beat that we find on those Michael Jackson albums. When listening to "Belong To The World", the Portishead sample just sounds out of place. The string work sounds like it belongs with Nicki Minaj, not a soulful R&B artist. Quite frankly, the sample becomes the focus and takes your ears away from The Weeknd's vocal work, which is in fact one of his best deliveries on Kiss Land. This weak sampling, obvious sampling, like with Frank Ocean's "Crack Rock", it just doesn't cut it for me. Tracks from The Weeknd's three EPs featured heavy sampling that worked, that didn't need strings or layered vocals to build. "House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls" used "Happy House" by Siouxsie and the Banshees extensively. When "Machine Gun" enters on "Belong To The World", it only makes me want to switch off and listen to Portishead instead.

UMG has a tendency on making its artists sound big, instead of sticking to past influences and song making aesthetics. The major label sucks all the creative life out of your fingers and says: 'hey look, we're giving you a chance, sign here please'. The Weeknd hasn't lost his core values, or his ideas. All of his lyrical concepts have been changed to suit a person two years following a broken anonymity. Kiss Land's lyrics are about touring and more essentially 'girls on tour'. The second track "The Town" is one of his best songs to date. Forget about the instrumental and focus on the lyrics for a moment. He sings: "You're almost dead to him, you're sleeping with a frozen heart." "The Town" tells the story of separation and lost love, almost waiting for this love to come back around and find him. To which he finally sings: "I bet you'll take me in, I know you'll take me in, I know you'll take me in. The same place I left you in." The hook is harmonised and repeated for effect, all centred by a backdrop of reverberation and a typical dark beat that you would find on Thursday.

His instrumentals continue to impress with the track three/four crossover. The former ("Adaption") has a tricking bass heavy beat, with sinister lyrics: "Adapted to these models who adapted to the bottle / They take it down like water, just to burn away their sorrows." It features a subtle sample of "Bring On The Night" by The Police. Noticeable to Police fans, but a hidden feature to everyone else. The latter ("Love In The Sky") is given an introduction, the closing segments of "Adaption". This track is all about The Weeknd's excessive sexual lyricism. His whole music career has featured steamy R&B lines wet enough for sexy time. "Love In The Sky" is in fact all about sexy time and how The Weeknd goes about doing his business. There's also drug references everywhere, even the titular hook: "We'll find our love in the sky," reminds you about: "Lucy in the sky with diamonds." The Weeknd goes on to deliver his raunchiest lyrics yet: "Ain't no time to fuck slow, and even if I try, it's not something I would know, but I'm sure I'll make you cum, do it three times in a row."

The further I venture into Kiss Land, the greater it sounds. Although UMG does restrict musicians, it seems as if The Weeknd has been left to his own devices. "Wanderlust" is the post-disco / 80s pop that daft Punk craved for with Random Access Memories. The vocals are astounding, reaching the highs of Michael Jackson in his prime - honest to god. He sings: "You're in love with something bigger than love, you believe in something stronger than trust. Wanderlust." Taking this beat, The Weeknd has essentially taken a trip through the 80s, taking lyrics from Fox The Fox's "Precious Little Diamond" for "Wanderlust's" bridge. It becomes apparent The Weeknd has an undeniable need for quality. He may be a perfectionist, but some things are best left raw. Kiss Land is The Weeknd's best produced release to date, with "Live For" taking the reigns as Drake's throne becomes warm. Drake's appearance and guest verse is actually respectable and relevant this time, instead of his off-topic lyricism on last year's good kid, m.A.A.d city. It's all about the touring artists’ lust.

"Kiss Land" introduced The Weeknd's debut studio album back in May. We know from that moment that Kiss Land would be far more revealing into the life of Tesfay. The self-titled track doesn't hit the ground running. It's actually rather crude and extremely demeaning to women. The female scream that reoccurs throughout fits in with the horror theme, but begs questions of Tesfay's respect for women: "Cause the only thing you are takin' is your clothes off. Go 'head girl, strip it down, close your mouth, I just wanna hear your body talk." It's actually one of my biggest criticisms of The Weeknd as an artist, but especially on Kiss Land. The music, drugs, and touring lifestyle doesn't usually come up as content on albums, and credit must be given to The Weeknd for delivering such lyrical themes. With "Kiss Land", and other tracks, the hardcore image The Weeknd portrays is for gangster hip-hop, not the sweet loving R&B/soul genre. There's no smooth "Let's Get It On", it's all: "You can meet me in the room where the kisses am not free, you gotta pay with your body." Essentially pointless lyricism with a simple message of - 'I’m famous now and have money now and have chicks now'.

Fans of The Weeknd will have split opinions with Kiss Land. On one hand you have a fresh sound, reviving a somewhat dead genre with spectacular hooks and progressions; on the other hand there's a serious question of authenticity and skill. Without Illangelo as producer, Kiss Land's sound is drastically different to that from the three EPs - this will be the deciding factor with The Weeknd fans. UMG and The Weeknd are looking at the bigger picture, tracks like "Pretty" and "Tears In The Rain" tie in with the album concept, but fail to live up to the weaker points on House of Balloons. This being said, the latter track closes the album, with the rain fall sound that has featured throughout this album. Kiss Land is like a Sin City porn parody - it's dark and ethereal in places with rain signifying sadness, then there's the raunchy Jessica Alba side of things which is for all to experience on "Love In The Sky" / "Kiss Land" / "Live For"... You get the picture. But even though this album's lyrical content is moderately offensive and degrading to women, it's still a fantastic release and one that has to be recognised as a standout for 2013. "The Town" has without a doubt the best hook of the year so far, "Professional" the best sampling, and "Wanderlust" the best Thriller night. 
~Eddie

8.6

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