The Weeknd - 'Kiss Land'
<i>Abel Tesfaye's take on fame is sleazy and self-absorbed, but also powerful and sonically ambitious</i>More on The Weeknd
As a first album proper, 'Kiss Land' is vastly accomplished, but we know its backstory. Even so, that major-label budget has wrought significant advances. It's more ambitious sonically – Tesfaye even finds the four-to-the-floor button on the fantastic, panicky 'Wanderlust' – and every synth, from the Phantom Of The Opera flurries of 'The Town' to the quasi-rave shards of 'Professional', has the presence of a mountain range. Cash is also pouring into Tesfaye's rock star lifestyle, much to his chagrin. On the sprawling slow jam 'Love In The Sky', he moans, "I've been killing these shows/But I'm always getting high/'Cos my confidence is low". Over the glitches of the epic title track – that "kiss land" is your standard backstage sleaze area – he leers at a fan with a camera: "The only thing you're taking is your clothes off". The sentiments are grim, but the black-as-night electronica is powerful, and Tesfaye exudes a persuasive, sickly sweetness.
That's just his voice, a supple instrument investing lines like "I'll sure make you come/Do it three times in a row" with conviction. His urgent performance on the Portishead-jacking 'Belong To The World' – "It's something I relate to/Your gift of nonchalance", he sings – is pure Michael Jackson, and so is the protagonist on 'Tears In The Rain', crooning with a sob for the girl who's made the error of letting Tesfaye "slip away".
As with his illustrious forebear, whether he's an enigma or a rotter depends almost entirely on your generosity. What shouldn't be clouded is the fact that 'Kiss Land' is a fascinating record, Tesfaye defying reservations with the self-absorption of a madman. Where he goes now is anybody's guess, but he probably won't be welcome. That's someone else's problem.
Matthew Horton Buy The Weeknd - 'Kiss Land' at iTunes
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