Yes, you read that right. The Toronto crooner’s fourth studio album is his best body of work to date. Arriving nearly four years after his last full-length LP Starboy, After Hours is an amalgamation of every sound Abel Tesfaye has explored in his career. All the while uncovering yet another layer of his hedonistic personality over what is some of the best production The Weeknd has ever worked with. The result is one of Tesfaye’s most fully realized albums and certainly, the one he’s been trying to make for the longest time.
Stylistically, Abel is stepping into some new territory. If you were a fan of his works with French New Wave producers such as Kavinsky and Gesaffelstein then rejoice, as it feels as if their works have had a heavy influence on the direction of After Hours. With the help of mainstays such as Illangelo, Metro Boomin to electronic experimentalists like Oneohtrix Point Never and Kevin Parker. After Hours blends The Weeknd’s trademark sound of R&B and pop with elements of synthwave, drum n’ bass, electropop and trap. The Weeknd has slowly built himself up to become a versatile artist, and he nails it throughout every track on After Hours, like a chameleon he seamlessly blends himself into the abstract production so effortlessly. After Hours goes from the UK Garage/house-influenced “Too Late”, to the hard-hitting debauchery filled “Heartless” then back to the glitz of the 80’s with “In Your Eyes”. The album feels like the perfect blend of his earlier, underground sound with his newer stadium-sized pop ballads and each track is sequenced perfectly with one another.
Sex, drugs, and loneliness make up the bulk of Abel’s music and After Hours is certainly no exception to the rule. This time around, his lyrics feel even more vulnerable than ever before as he heavily emphasizes that last trait on the album. Especially due to the fact that After Hours has zero features, Abel is all alone and uses this seclusion throughout the album to address the heartache towards his former lover. Certainly not the first time he’s done so, however on After Hours he sounds more mature when detailing his emotions, as he puts the blame on himself as opposed to pointing the finger at somebody else. He slowly comes to this realization as he looks inward on tracks like “Hardest To Love” and “Scared To Live” where he admits he’s the one to blame for his relationship problems all along. He pleads for his lover to come back on “After Hours” and “Repeat After Me” despite knowing they never will. At times, he gets dark on tracks like “Escape From LA” in which he discusses the toxic nature of the city and the women there, the haunting synths act as the backdrop to the infidelity he takes part in. “Faith” has Abel detail his drug use, begging his lover to stay with him at his lowest in a gloomy, Romeo & Juliet type of way (“But if I OD, I want you to OD right beside me”.)
While Abel is still portraying himself as R&B music’s antihero who drowns himself in his vices of drugs and women, he’s realizing that this is not the person he wants to be as he finally looks at the man in the mirror whose responsible as evident on the power ballad “Scared To Live”. This is what truly makes After Hours one of Abel’s best albums. The kid who once lived in a house of balloons is growing up and admitting he’s the one at fault. He’s become more conscious of the life he lives and struggles to get away from it. This realization is not a happy one and in true Weeknd fashion, it revels on the loneliness he feels as opposed to masking it with his libations.
After Hours is an album that will surely cater to all types of fans of The Weeknd, from die-hard fans of his older material to newer fans of his recent songs, a little bit of everything is showcased here as he sheds even more layers to his personality. With no features and the varying production, Abel handles his own strength. What the future has for Tesfaye and what direction he’ll go into next is questionable, but one thing remains true: After Hours is The Weeknd at his prime.
Essential Tracks: Too Late, Hardest To Love, Scared To Live, Faith, In Your Eyes, After Hours.