On Beauty Behind the Madness, Abel Tesfaye sheds the fat from his disappointing major label debut, Kiss Land.

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The album plays like a victory lap, with Tesfaye revisiting past glories và embellishing them, và when he harnesses his gift, the results are impossible to lớn argue with.

"My cousin said I made it big and it"s unusual/ She tried to lớn take a selfie at my Grandma"s funeral," Abel Tesfaye sings on "Tell Your Friends", a revealing highlight from his second major label album. For anyone following the Weeknd since House of Balloons materialized from the ether in 2011, watching him walk on stage at the VMAs lớn perform "Can"t Feel My Face"—his first number one hit—certainly felt unusual. Not that the song"s success was unpredictable. Co-written by Max Martin, "Can"t Feel My Face" replaced direct references to lớn Tesfaye"s favorite things (cocaine và sex) with PG-13 allusions—a Weeknd song that"s fun for the whole family. It was also the catchiest tuy nhiên of his entire career.

Tesfaye"s pivot from cult lothario to pop star began last year with a guest verse on Ariana Grande"s "Love Me Harder". Tesfaye scrapped what writers provided him with và tried his hand at something radio-friendly, and the result was his most likeable verse since the hallowed days of the Trilogy. Then there was "Earned It", the theme tuy vậy for 50 Shades of Grey which introduced him lớn a whole new audience và put his angelic voice over orchestral pomp—a formula that proved hard khổng lồ resist, even if the song was kind of icky.

With that momentum behind him, Beauty Behind the Madness sees Tesfaye hell-bent on stardom, shedding the fat from his disappointing major label debut, Kiss Land. But instead of going the "Can"t Feel My Face" route, opening up his sound và softening its edges, he returns khổng lồ what made him great in the first place. Everything we know about the Weeknd is here: the dark, mysterious production where contemporary R&B rubs elbows with post-punk & shoegaze (Tesfaye"s OG producer, Illangelo, is everywhere on it); the lascivious lyrics that swing between menacing và laughable; and, most of all, Tesfaye"s sinuous vocal melodies. Developed from a childhood spent listening to Ethiopian music, his labyrinthine hooks and ad-libs are more indelible than ever.

The album plays like a victory lap, with Tesfaye revisiting past glories and embellishing them. "The Hills", with its disaffected croak and horror-movie screams, sounds lượt thích a tuy vậy from the Thursday mixtape on a Hollywood budget. "Tell Your Friends" is like "The Morning" produced by Kanye West. "Shameless" is "Wicked Games" from a more knowing perspective, while "Angel" wraps the Weeknd"s most epic moments—think "Heaven or Las Vegas"—in a glossy adult-contemporary framework that could house a Celine Dion tuy nhiên (and written with one of her collaborators, Stephen Moccio). & then there"s "In the Night", a MJ-esque disco stomper và guaranteed hit single that sounds like nothing he"s done before.

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In moments lượt thích this, when Tesfaye harnesses his gift, the results are impossible to argue with. But he"s still a victim of his own flawed persona. Tesfaye repeats the tired tropes he"s been squeezing the life out of since the beginning (take a shot for every time he offers a variation on "love is pointless"). "Acquainted" và the mind-numbingly boring Ed Sheeran collaboration "Dark Times" feel lượt thích they were written with Mad Libs, and elsewhere, Tesfaye"s cruelly misogynist perspective remains jarring & uncomfortable. Sometimes he"s underhanded, lượt thích on "As You Are", which is one long neg disguised as a tender love song, and other times it"s skin-crawlingly direct. Thankfully, he has toned it down somewhat —we"re miles away from that time he killed a woman in a music video clip and let the camera pan over her bloodied body.

In the end, enjoying the Weeknd requires a certain suspension of disbelief, và that remains true on Beauty Behind the Madness. You really have lớn buy into his bad-guy persona, và after four years of this stuff, you might roll your eyes at a chorus like "I only hotline you when it"s half past five"—we get it. But for newcomers, there"s a whole world to explore, and on Beauty Behind the Madness it"s richer và smarter than ever.

It helps that the self-awareness he"s flashed in his interviews has begun creeping slowly into his music. Tesfaye has made a career singing nasty things in a sweet voice, but there are moments on Beauty, lượt thích "Prisoner", his soul-searching duet with Lana Del Rey, where he finally sounds like he"s engaging with this persona critically, making his audience question themselves for singing along so easily this whole time. "Tell Your Friends" reflects on Tesfaye"s rise over six crystalline minutes that rank among the best in his career. The themes are familiar, but his voice carries a new authority, & when he sings "I"m that nigga with the hair/ Singing "bout popping pills, fucking bitches, living life so trill," at the over of the chorus, there is an audible smile on his face.

That tuy nhiên restates Tesfaye"s defining duality, reveling in the bacchanalian excess of his lifestyle while keeping a hold on its emptiness. When he wrote songs like "High for This" or "The Morning", Tesfaye was homeless and barely 20, crashing on couches around Toronto và working at American Apparel. On "Tell Your Friends", he"s a touring pop star with a number one hit under his belt. He"s cruising in the West over in his new Benz, hearing his songs stream out of the Queen Street haunts he used to frequent. He uses "Tell Your Friends" to look back, reminding us that he"s still the same old guy in the face of all the fame, though some things have changed: back then, in 2011, Cali was his mission. Now, it"s the whole world.