Abel Tesfaye has come a long way in his career since his first project as The Weeknd in 2011. From underground R&B kingpin to pop phenomenon, Tesfaye has found critical and commercial success at every turn.
Now, his newest EP “My Dear Melancholy,” observes Tesfaye reaching back into his old musical wheelhouse. For fans of The Weeknd, this project may feel like a refreshing return to the Trilogy-era sound that kick-started his career. “My Dear Melancholy,” forgoes much of the power pop sensibilities and catchiness of Starboy and Beauty Behind the Madness for the dark, atmospheric R&B that his most loyal listeners know so well.
Although the project is labeled as an EP, “My Dear Melancholy,” has the track-to-track cohesiveness of a full-length project. However, clocking in at a cool six songs and 21 minutes, expectations of a major-label album are nonexistent.
The Weeknd’s fans may appreciate his harkening back to his downtempo, moody roots, but other than the enlistment of superstar electronic producers Gesaffelstein, Skrillex and Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, The Weeknd displays minimal artistic growth for an artist whose career and resources have risen exponentially since his 2011 project House of Balloons.
Unfortunately, some of the EP’s most memorable tracks recycle many elements and song structures from The Weeknd’s more popular past singles. “Call Out My Name,” the EP’s opener and catchiest song, samples his Oscar-nominated track, “Earned It.” While “Call Out My Name” delivers a sexy, captivating hook and the same distorted, ominous synthesizers that permeated Beauty Behind the Madness, there is not much to distinguish it from its superior Fifty Shades of Grey sister track.
This same empty familiarity is reflected on the follow-up track, “Try Me,” where Tesfaye opts for an almost identical cadence and delivery to that of “Starboy.” Here, Tesfaye’s signature lead vocals take a backseat to the momentous instrumental, which does work to his advantage as an atmospheric track.
The EP’s most glaring weakness lies in the depth, or lack thereof, in terms of its lyrical content. Drugs, sex and depression are themes synonymous with Tesfaye’s music, but he falls victim to many of his own lyrical cliches far too often.
“Privilege” and especially “Hurt You” start off as intriguing thematic pivots with Tesfaye appearing empathetic to his object of desire, but the tracks ultimately return to his signature, self-absorbed lyrical cliches.
On “Privilege,” he croons the hackneyed lyrics, “Imma drink the pain away, I’ll be back to my old ways/And I got two red pills to take the blues away.” Elsewhere on “Hurt You,” Tesfaye delivers a memorably cringe-worthy quote: “Girl, I’ll come to put myself between your legs/Not between your heart.”
In terms of its legacy in The Weeknd’s extensive discography, “My Dear Melancholy,” was never meant to be scrutinized on equal footing as his previous full-length releases. Quite possibly, Tesfaye recorded enough songs for a project but did not want the pressure of a typical album cycle. Therefore, as a finished product, “My Dear Melancholy,” is a high-gloss, low-depth pander to his built-in fandom.
It is not the perpetual rain cloud over Tesfaye’s head that exhausts the listener, but rather his lack in further introspection from project to project. “My Dear Melancholy,” is undoubtedly a project for the fans, but it lacks the fire and songwriting prowess to stimulate a larger and more diverse audience.