“This the s**t that I live for, with the people I’d die for.”
This catch phase is sung with as much excitement as the melancholic Abel Tesfaye can muster. It’s the hook in “Live For,” the single off of last week’s Kiss Land—Tesfaye’s first major label debut released under his better-known alias The Weeknd. Featuring Drake, the hook reaffirms Drake’s ‘You Only Live Once’ (better known as ‘YOLO’) empire, of which fellow Torontonian The Weeknd is a member. It’s easy to imagine teenagers hearing echoes of it on the radio, quoting the line on Instagram along with pictures of their friends.
Despite the title of his album and its seemingly cute “XO” emblem, The Weeknd is anything but friendly on Kiss Land. The album is moody and dark, and any offers of hugs or kisses are strictly passive- aggressive. The Weeknd’s smooth R&B vocals are the common denominator when vocalizing both his problems and pleasures, softening edgier tracks and sharpening gentle serenades. “Belong to the World,” another single off the album, exemplifies this. It’s a love song about a prostitute—a modern “Roxanne” with a lifted Portishead sample of aggressive “Machine Gun” drums.
The best songs of Kiss Land come across like a futuristic Michael Jackson, with funky production and heartfelt vocals. Other moments are duller: otherwise clever, self-conscious sappiness occasionally drips into cheesy territory, with lines like “I’ll admit, baby/ I’m a little camera shy/ but exceptions can be made baby/ ’cause you’re too damn fly.” Kiss Land, as a foray into the mainstream spotlight, is a smooth and assured debut, but unfortunately lacks the rawness and hunger of Tesfaye’s earlier mixtapes.