In the ever-competitive music world, becoming a recognizable star almost always takes immense skill, combined with at least a bit of luck — unless the sound of one’s voice brings the names of legends to mind. Abel Tesfaye, more commonly known by his stage name, The Weeknd, possesses one such voice.
A Canadian-born artist rooted in musical styles such as rhythm and blues and soul, Tesfaye flourishes when singing an alternative version of slow rock. Ever since his anonymous release of multiple songs on YouTube back in 2010, audiences across the globe have awaited his breakout performance. While his first true album, “Kiss Land” (2013), provided plenty of glimpses into what The Weeknd may one day become, his new release, “Beauty Behind the Madness” may prove to be his first claim to fame.
“Beauty Behind the Madness,” garners much of its appeal from its underlying emphasis on the beautiful yet tragic years of Tesfaye’s life. While the album as a whole speaks largely to a lifestyle filled with a lack of fulfillment and distress, the pure eloquence of its vocals come together to form a fluid, coherent sort of autobiography. It chronicles the difficulties Tesfaye faces as he navigates his life of personal destruction and fame in a search for love. Deep-rooted emotions of indulgence and pain ultimately produce a series of deeply melancholic pop tracks.
The album itself begins with the track “Real Life,” which provides a strong lead into the album as a whole. It combines inspired vocals with a harsh electric guitar reminiscent of Tesfaye’s early works. Not only does this track introduce its listeners to the genre that will follow, but it also fashions the message that this album is in fact a reference to Tesfaye’s real life as opposed to some false imagined existence.
As the album progresses, so too does the life of Tesfaye. In “Tell Your Friends,” he croons over an instrumental provided by Kanye West about how he wants to, “live life through a new lens,” but this new lifestyle of apparent fame comes across as one of self-serving satisfaction as he sings: “and money is the only thing I’m chasin’ and some dope dimes on some coke lines.” The song branches into a more provocative set of lyrics, further emphasizing Tesfaye’s personal transition. This same tone carries itself into the next slower, sultry single “Often,” in which life for Tesfaye seems to harbor few, if any, obstacles.
Further along, issues begin to arise and come to a point of focus in the album. A track titled “The Hills” features a line in which Tesfaye sings that others “always try to send me off to rehab.” His continued attempts to justify his actions overwhelm the rest of the song from a lyrical perspective. That being said, a diverse array of instruments makes an appearance, including a soothing upbeat piano. In addition, Tesfaye’s vocal range is showcased with moments of beautiful falsetto.
In some regards, the album climaxes once it reaches the blockbuster hit of the summer, “Can’t Feel My Face.” After finally finding love and a moment of fulfillment, Tesfaye sings with cheerful passion in a style more reminiscent of the rest of the pop genre.
The next sequence of songs conveys genuine feelings of desire and affection. The vocals reach higher levels as light drum and guitar accompaniments complete the pieces. An array of repetitive background melodies and strong influences of bass continue to tie each song together. The pop influences and uplifting vibes carry themselves all the way to the last part of the album, when Tesfaye takes yet another turn.
Amid this new love of his, Tesfaye remains caught up in his own problems and sins. In “Dark Times,” featuring Ed Sheeran, he sings: “This ain’t the right time for you to fall in love with me.” For the first time, he attempts to come to grips with his own reality.
This same sentiment is mimicked in the next track with Lana Del Ray, “Prisoner,” in which an undeniable loneliness is addressed. In both instances, the purity of the vocalists rises to the top, allowing for raw emotion to surface. The final track, entitled “Angel,” showcases Tesfaye’s search for internal love. It carries a continued pulse of true feelings that build up to a powerful finish that in some ways serves as a metaphor for all of the, “beauty behind the madness.”
For all the chaos that finds its way into the rhythms of this album, the overarching beauty comes from the vocal composition as a whole. Tesfaye has been compared to the legendary Michael Jackson, and like him, Tesfaye truly does bring words to life in the most vibrant of ways. Telling his life story though this album provides for an enchanting hour of authentic, raw emotion. In expressing his own apparent struggle to love himself, The Weeknd may very well have just cemented himself as an international sensation.