The Weeknd’s ‘Starboy’ is Good but it’s not Quite ‘Can’t Feel My Face’

2016 has been relatively quiet for The Weeknd except for a few cameos on The Life of Pablo and Lemonade. But this week, The Weeknd bombarded social media with his upcoming album’s cover art, title and first single, with the latter two both being titled ‘Starboy’- perhaps a reference to the departed David Bowie. But what has caught the eye more than his anticipated return is the lack of his signature bonsai tree hairstyle. The Weeknd has returned with a slicker, more conventional hairdo- an indication of what is to come on his continued musical overhaul.

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Early mixtapes and his Trilogy compilation painted The Weeknd as a nocturnally-charged character, lurking uncomfortably in the corners of house parties. The subject matter was even starker with desolate portraits of the alienation that sex, drugs and endless partying brings. The Weeknd is at the forefront of R&B’s excessively dark revolution. But even with 2013’s Kiss Land, an album that still immersed itself in the controversial subject matter, the mainstream crossover looked apparent. The Weeknd’s tone had lightened and it provided the perfect aperitif for his universal breakthrough with Beauty Behind the Madness.

‘The influence of Daft Punk has removed the agitation of Beauty Behind the Madness’

‘Starboy’ steps away somewhat from the discordance of his past work, operating at mid-tempo and imbuing the intelligent production of French dance pioneers Daft Punk. The Weeknd often combines turbulent soundscapes with late-night stories of debauchery but the influence of Daft Punk has removed the agitation of Beauty Behind the Madness. The fragility of the percussion and the dispersion of piano throughout gives ‘Starboy’ a feeling of recollection rather than the present as if The Weeknd is looking back on a sordid night with regret.

The new track recaptures some of the pull of ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ with an equally hypnotic handclap throughout the chorus but it doesn’t even possess the same memorable quality as follow-up hits such as ‘Often’ and ‘The Hills’. ‘Starboy’ is a modestly cool addition, helped generously by Daft Punk’s supremely minimalist production. But a banger worthy of ‘Can’t Feel My Face’s’ dizzying echelon it is not.

7.5/10

Image courtesy of NME

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