Nothing good ever happens after 2am. The late night pursuit of please can often lead us into self inflicted wounds and irrevocable decisions but often makes the most memorable stories. The Weeknd’s latest album After Hours is a retrospective of his choices and the circumstances he now lives in. The album’s cover art is a bloody and beaten up version of Abel Tesfaye’s alter ego “The Weeknd” smiling looking down at the camera embracing what he’s become and what he’s gone through. This album is critically acclaimed and touted as his most complete project to date. I tend to agree even though I will always be chasing the high I got when I first heard House of Balloons. This album differs from his early works because it leans more into the music and storytelling rather than being carried by the raw robust power of his voice. After Hours pays homage to music of the 80’s relying heavily on the synthesizer, electric drum pad, vocoder, and even has a sprawling saxophone solo. This album has vision, narrative, and delivery.
The Weeknd has always been commentary on lavish opulence meeting the gritty underworld of heavy substance abuse and everything that comes with it. Abel has often said his degenerate alter ego is heavily influenced by movie villains most notably the Joker. This would explain why this album is split in two stylistically conveying the duality of outward success through inner turmoil. The first half is a self loathing pity party that obviously references his storied recent break up with Bella Hadid especially in the first track Alone Again “I don’t know if I can sleep alone again, Check my pulse for a second time.” The same can be said in the second track Too Late, “I let you down, I led you on. I never thought I’d be here without you.” The following songs manifest themselves into the ego inflation that The Weeknd has become famous for like this lyric “I’ve been the hardest to love, it’s hard to let me go” in Hardest to Love. The album’s metamorphosis begins in song Snowchild talking about his rough childhood and how his life has changed while the album splits after Escape from LA bringing the decadence of who he’s become to full fruition bringing up Tribeca, diamonds, and deal with Mercedes. The album as a whole is an analysis of LA: the culture of wealth, prosperity, and the prophecy of self destruction. Though his lyrics touch on material things the depth of his artistic endeavors have always been anchored by his vulnerability and honesty that this album doesn’t dodge one bit. From addiction, suicide, overdosing, to loneliness the first half of this album reminds me of a reflective comedown before your next fix.
The album as a whole is an analysis of LA: the culture of wealth, prosperity, and the prophecy of self destruction.
The second half of the album is completely different when it comes to the subject matter, tempo, and overall feel. Both of the first two singles off of this album are on the second half (Heartless & Flashing Lights) and where the first seven songs are somber and reflective the second seven are more upbeat. Heartless is the moment when Abel fully embraces being The Weeknd, the mask comes on, the face paint is applied. Our antihero arrives. It is also worth noting that Metro Boomin shows the full spectrum of his artistic abilities producing four total songs on the Album, three of them being on the second half. These songs seemingly have no hip hop influence but instead create Depeche Mode aura with 80’s pop influenced synth chorus lines coupled with heavy snare and bass drums. Metro is also responsible for that saxophone solo at the end of In Your Eye’s that frankly brings the house down and surprises the listener, leaving us wanting more. Lizzo’s producer Ricky Reed bring leaves his electronic fingerprints all over this album helping creating a modern time capsule of how The Weeknd would have made music if he was famous in the 80’s. This album is a cocaine fueled joyride that follows the after party. It culminates in Until I Bleed Out (also produced by Metro Boomin) which is a slow ballad that leads out as we drift out into a dark inebriated abyss.
Ultimately After Hours is the culmination of the body of work The Weeknd has been building for the last decade. He truly is a once in a lifetime talent that has continuously transformed before our eyes being refined and reshaped into what we now have. Abel now is established to where he can have a passion piece like this while being collaborative enough to trust the people around him to make something that will stand the test of time. I did not like this album when I first heard it but once I heard the whole thing one time through I had to listen to it again and once I realized that it was a progressive narrative telling a story it reminded me of what albums are supposed to be. It’s true the music market has changed with the internet but The Weeknd has such a cult following he can now take risks to make the music that he wants to make. This is the mark of a superstar. Unapologetically artistic, going where modern artists are scared to go while creating something that feels familiar but also unique beyond measure. After Hours is a collaborative nostalgia bomb that gets better every time you listen, this isn’t just another Weeknd album, this could be his magnum opus.