In an interview with Complex Magazine in July, Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, said his long-awaited debut album “Kiss Land” was inspired by the horror themes of directors John Carpenter, David Cronenberg and Ridley Scott.
While “Kiss Land” isn’t scary lyrically, it is blunt, honest, sad and triumphant, playing over a dark and eerie soundtrack that is truly something R&B has never seen before.
Compared to his critically acclaimed mixtape “House of Balloons,” “Kiss Land” is a cinematic listening experience that tells Tesfaye’s high points and low points in adjusting to fame and life on the road by using a story-like narrative beginning to end.
His story navigates impressively with smooth transitions, melodies and proper flow from track to track.
Though the album only falters in a cohesive sound between Tracks 6, 7 and 8, the subject matter maintains a logical transition throughout the project.
The album begins with “Professional,” an eerie, cinematic track that sets the tone for the entire project. He reaches an understanding with a woman on how they are both professionals at hiding their feelings. Creating closure, they decide to follow their own paths through life.
In “The Town,” the story continues as he develops fondness for the woman. While on the road he discovers she has fallen in love with another.
Leaving the town, the third track, “Adaptation,” Tesfaye showcases an improvement in candid songwriting as he sings of the love interest he chose to let go of to chase his dreams.
“I chose the life / Then I realized / She might have been the one / I let it go / For a little fun / I made a trade / Gave away our days / For a little fame / Now I’ll never see your face / But it’s okay I adapted anyway.”
A melody plays at the end of the track, leaving a lasting impression.
“Love in the Sky,” is a sexual ballad in which Tesfaye essentially says the woman will have to dream she’s in love with him. The moment of climax takes their love to the sky over a production that includes heavy bass, a guitar riff, raindrops and thunder.
Though he has fallen short of his goal, Tesfaye attempts to break into mainstream radio play with “Belong to the World.” The overbearing drum sample from Portishead’s “Machine Gun” could be the reason behind his failed attempt. In this chapter of his story, he finally gives up on his love.
Drake makes the album’s lone guest appearance on “Live For,” where both men bluntly say they live to be entertainers. “Live For” is the first song on the album with a fun and party-like ambience, which transitions well into track seven.
With sounds reminiscent of a merging between Jackson’s 1982 hit, “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” and Prince’s 1984 hit “When Doves Cry,” “Wanderlust” is an upbeat, thumping dance track.
As the album’s most radio friendly song, Tesfaye searches for a one-night stand and unites with a woman on the dance floor. He sounds Jackson-esque with lyrical inspiration from Prince as he sings, “They’re in love with this idea of love / It’s a shame that they’ll believe it will come / For us all, for us all.”
The only song on the album giving the horror vibe he promoted is the album’s title track “Kiss Land.” The song is complete with screams, drug references, a haunting instrumental and thumping hip-hop inspired bass and is the embodiment of the touring party life that he and his friends live while on the road.
Reuniting with the woman he found affection for early in the album, he revisits “The Town” on “Pretty.” He explains why he had to act the way he did, but is back in town and hopes that he can rely on her – but that is not the case.
In quite possibly the most honest song on the album, “Tears in the Rain” details what he believes is the biggest downside to fame – that no one can truly love him.
“They all feel the same / Adjust to the fame / Cause no one will love you like her / It’s pointless / Like tears in the rain / So now that she’s gone / Embrace all that come / And die with a smile / Don’t show the world how alone you’ve become.”
Though Frank Ocean, Tesfaye’s main competition in alternative R&B, has received more mainstream success with the official studio album “Channel Orange,” after a year of recording and guest features, The Weeknd has carved out his own loyal audience with four amazing works in the span of two years. A production rate that Ocean hasn’t come close to.