Album Review: Starboy + I'VE DONE IT!

WonkeyDude98
Mini-Description: In my twenty-seventh album review, The Weeknd comes further down to earth and creates transcendence -- all the while becoming a boring good-but-not-great cheese puff in the process. And stick around for something special!

Best Songs: "False Alarm", "Starboy" ft. Daft Punk, "I Feel It Coming" ft. Daft Punk", "Ordinary Life", "Love To Lay"
Worst Song: "Attention"

7/10


Barring Skeleton Tree and Run The Jewels 3 (which I won't consider a 2016 album), this was my most anticipated album of the year.

But before we start, I've had some complex tolerance of the Weeknd. One of the most mysterious figures in modern music, in order to crack the mystery I decided to sit through ALL of his Trilogy mixtape (containing House Of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence) and Kiss Land. And you know what I regret most about my past self?

Not realizing the fact that the Weeknd is downright awesome.

I would go as far as saying that the Weeknd is the best new artist of the 2010s. I would call every mixtape in the Trilogy four years away from being considered downright classics, because all three of them absolutely rule. Abel Tesfaye made himself out to be the MC Ride of R&B, with thunderous, grimy production that was able to match the brutal nihilism of a lot of his lyrics. As for Kiss Land...well, it was a great album, using a lot of his former style and making it a lot bigger (The fact that he sampled was Portishead's best song definitely helps), but I feel like this is the point where the "sex, drugs, and rhythm and blues-king" shtick started to get a little overdone, and got a tad petulant at points (and if you care for foreshadowing, this is going to be extremely hypocritical haha). But I still really liked the album.

Then Beauty Behind The Madness gets entered into the question, and...well, it was an awkward middle-zone, with no better way to put it. It's a decent album, easily having some of the better songs of his career (I still stand by In The Night being in my top 3 hits of 2016 even without the help of this new album's title track) and invoking a lot of reaction...but that came at the cost of his edge. He lost his flare that made him so bombastic and groove-heavy. The closest we came to that gritty sparkle was on... The Hills, and if you remember my worst hit songs of 2015 list you'd know I absolutely loathe that song! So this new album gave me no expectations of it being consistent.

At least, until the singles dropped. Starboy, False Alarm, I Feel It Coming and Party Monster all released in succession as some of the greatest songs of the year PERIOD. I'm so glad an acquaintance of mine sent me this album, because I expected this to be one of the best albums of the year. Did I get it?

Well...the iTunes samples were promising, but...no. Not at all, in fact. Don't get me wrong, Starboy is a good album, probably better than Beauty Behind The Madness, but that's only because of the abnormally extremely high points that show up on less than half this album. Besides this, with Starboy the only thing I see is Abel devolving with his least interesting or invoking album to date.

That's not because of Abel himself, at least not a lot. His voice sounds...well, normal, let's put it that way. I still wish I bought him more as a cynic, the choice to go for a smoother, more consistent upper range does fit with the content a bit better than on some stuff he's done, well, besides the autotune on Sidewalks, and apparently I'm the only person who finds it irritating.

What's a problem universally is the lyrical content. I've come to expect The Weeknd to display himself as a nihilistic drunkard who watches girls from afar, but this album just feels tired. Like he's repeating himself. At this album's best, it goes for extremely dangerous, careful territory, like on the title track, where the dance-y instrumental is meant to contrast with the ingenious framing of his insulting of the audience where he mocks his "fake fans" for only being there for the groove, not realizing that they accepted him in the mainstream and then bashed him without even changing him that much. They're the butt of the joke.

Another song in this vein is Ordinary Life, where The Weeknd seems to be over reveling in his drugs and alcohol, realizing what it's done to him and knowing that as much as people are rooting for him that it isn't euphoria anymore.

And yeah, on the last few songs on this album do show him growing as a person, where instead of rejecting this girl like he did on the closer of the last album, he instead goes for that chance of love even if it is kind of cliché. It's a definite step in maturity, and I can't deny if he ever follows this album up I'm interested in where it will head.

But that's a trade-off. What made The Weeknd so formerly captivating was for as much as his brutal, hazy nihilism got repetitive, there was a lot of vivid lyrical details that helped it connect cohesively while not sounding tired. Starboy somehow accomplishes neither. His repetition is very much there, but the detail is replaced with repeating and stuttering words. It makes his songs about greedy gold diggers start to really become a double-edged sword. On one corner you have songs like False Alarm and Love To Lay, which pull off these songs with an air of non-condemning that makes them easier to respect. But then you get a song like Attention, which The Weeknd blatantly lashes out as a (probably insecure) prostitute in a really bitter and insufferable way that leaves such a sour taste in my mouth, with A Lonely Night somehow following suit by doing the exact opposite.

And as for the rest....well, I appreciate Abel trying to find the truth about his girlfriend on the twofold Secrets and True Colors, but the way he goes about it is either presumptuous or somewhat creepy. Then there's Six Feet Under with Future which I'm not even going to comment on because I'm pretty sure Abel is contractually obligated to have at least one song that's a prequel 6 Inch-lite on every one of his albums, along with quite a few abysmal puns.

And any of this could be excused if the production was consistent...and it is. Because this is The Weeknd's most pop-sounding album to date, and it's something that hurts him severely. Put it this way: he shuns other R&B artists for being boring as well as slogging the Teen Choice Awards on Reminder, but then when you look at the instrumentals on this album...it isn't really interesting or dangerous.

And again, there are exceptions to this. The pluckier snap matched with the welling bass and somber pianos on the title track, the more atmospheric trap haze of Party Monster, the sharp grinding darkwave of False Alarm (which might just stand as one of the best things he's ever done mostly because it actually has an edge), the funkier Rockin' that translates into Love To Lay and the far weaker A Lonely Night and Secrets, the weedy guitar fragments on Sidewalks, the darker bassy sweep of Ordinary Life, perhaps the swelling trap beat of All I Know, and the more sensual, almost tropical vibe of I Feel It Coming that's easily the happiest thing he's ever done.

But then on the flipside, you get songs that have production that's either a far weaker retread of what Abel's already done, or something new that just plain doesn't work whatsoever. The offkey droning pianos and weird glugging noises on Reminder, the low house-y gurgle and awkward weedy sample on Secrets, the glossier marimbas, horns, and dripping sounds on True Colors, the atrocious cooing from Lana Del Rey on Stargirl, the Future-inspired and Future-featuring Six Feet Under, the the burble of low synths on A Lonely Night, the gutless tepid drone of Attention, the thudding horns and weedy synths on Die For You, the autotune carelessly splattered across the album especially Sidewalks, and the pitch shifting all over Party Monster, Attention, and Nothing Without You, these sounds don't fit The Weeknd's voice or style whatsoever.

And really, that's the worst thing about this. This isn't a Weeknd album. Yes, I get that he's trying to grow as an artist on this album, but shouldn't that be a gradual change instead of thrusting it in our faces while still having that tedious nihilism like you've done here? Again, there are great songs here. False Alarm, the title track, I Feel It Coming, Love To Lay, Ordinary Life, even Rockin' and Party Monster will more than do in a pinch. But that's a third of this.

As hard as I'm going off on this, let me make it clear: I don't hate Starboy. On paper, it's great. A handful of legendary songs, great ideas, and Tesfaye becoming a better person throughout? I'd be on board. But when you combine that with uninteresting content, edgeless production, and over 2/3 of filler? It's an extremely light 7/10 and I can't really say I recommend it outside of a few select songs. Check it out if you're interested, but if he keeps doing stuff like this, Sidewalks will have jinxed him and he'll be replaced. Shame.

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT:

I've grown a lot since my first ever post. I guess it's fitting that the first post I've ever made and my first post after 100 high quality would be about the same artist. And really, not only is it unbelievable that I've made it to places that I've made it to a place where no TopTenner has gone before, it's also mindblowing how you al have been there every step of the way. So yeah, I'm reviewing every album I said I would (Bruno Mars is next), but if you want an album that's less than an hour long for me to review, leave it below. This is WonkeyDude98, and I'm so happy about this.

Comments

CONGRATS! - ProPanda

I rate it Trump/10 - visitor

Trump is (I think) 70, so...

70/10? - WonkeyDude98

No the number of good things Trump did - visitor

Try telling that to a Trump supporter though - WonkeyDude98

Are you one? - visitor

No. - WonkeyDude98

The Weeknd has really improved since "The Hills" - Martinglez

Dude, if anything he's decreased from his earlier works. - ProPanda

Mixtapes >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Kiss Land >>> Starboy > Beauty Behind The Madness - WonkeyDude98

Also, congratulations on that tough achievement - Martinglez

Also why did everyone on this site hate The Hills so much? - ProPanda

Because it's atrocious. - WonkeyDude98

Wow, nice job on getting that 100HQ post accomplishment. Wish I could get to that myself, but I'm slow in my reviews! I only have up to 50. - NuMetalManiak

Thanks! - WonkeyDude98

Congratulations on reaching 100 HQ posts, Andrew! Man, I'm jealous. - ModernSpongeBobSucks

I find it revoltingly funny that a review celebrating my acheivement of 100 HQ posts hasn't gone HQ. - WonkeyDude98

Edit: 6/10 - WonkeyDude98

Can you link me the album by the way? - ProPanda

Eh. I prefer Mixtapes, Kiss Land and Triology. Maybe include a crew of these 2011 albums. - AlphaQ

The best song for me has to be Die for You. - Hotheart123

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