Album Review: The Weeknd’s ‘Kiss Land’ is a missed opportunity

Abel Tesfaye started his career shrouded in mystery and press speculation.

The initial decision to conceal his identity and release dread-laden tracks on YouTube as “The Weeknd” actually turned out to be an important asset. There was an undeniable pull towards an artist that everyone knew so little about, and it certainly helped that all three of his mix-tapes contained plenty of things to get excited about. Now the secret is out and the singer’s face graces the lame front cover of his new album, “Kiss Land.”

There is no more curtain to hide behind, and Tesfaye and his demons finally see the light of day.

Unfortunately, his major label debut retains all of the worst tendencies of the project and almost nothing of what made it worthy in the first place. The songs have been slowed down to a crawl, and the production that was so great on his first three albums sounds pretentious and sloppy—almost as if a cheesy prog-rock band tried their hand at R&B. Even the electro-boogie of a song like “Wanderlust” isn’t nearly as fun as it was probably intended to be and the static and moody tone of the record becomes exceedingly uninteresting as it moves along.

The album also shows Abel as a lacking and embarrassingly morose songwriter. On past records, his misanthropic worldview was balanced out by his perversely fascinating storytelling and genuine creativity. “Kiss Land” is the exact opposite, and its luridness is a major weakness.

To add to the frustration, almost every song on the record takes aim at women. Tesfaye hasn’t exactly been kind to females in the past, but it bubbles over into seriously grating and depressing territory here. The title track, especially, is a shivery, nearly predatory groupie tale that—with its agonizing female screams added into the background—is as hard to take seriously as it is to listen to. It all feels so self-consciously flagrant in a way that is impossibly off-putting.

On other songs, such as the rave-tinged “Belong to the World” or the spacey “The Town,” Tesfaye’s presence seems to all but evaporate due to the overproduction. The music is constantly shifting, but all of the substance is drained out and vocals barely rise out of the mix. In fact, the only saving grace from all of this is Drake on “Live For,” who dabbles in the same sort of gloom but is also much more adept and interesting as a songwriter. Another guest verse or two could have possibly improved some of these songs, but there are still much bigger issues here than a lack of energy.

If The Weeknd’s conceptual purpose is to air out the darkness that has taken over Tesfaye’s mind, then this record feels like a bitter end. It is unpleasant to listen to, has very little potential to resonate with new fans or old fans and mostly feels like a wasted opportunity to tune up his sound with a bigger budget. In fact, his earlier mix-tapes, which were released in box-set titled “Trilogy” earlier this year, sound worlds better than this new material. It will be interesting to see where this project goes from here, but this record hasn’t shown much hope. Lighten up, dude.

Grade: D

Stream the album here