Album Review: The Weeknd drives off into that long good night on ‘Dawn FM’

The Weeknd, Dawn FM, The Weeknd Dawn FM

As we close one chapter and open another in the wake of the new year, The Weeknd delivered his fifth studio album Dawn FM. It comes following the success of 2020’s After Hours and the milestone of headlining the Super Bowl halftime show. The album delivers dreamy and dreary electronic pop and R&B jams to vibe with while undergoing an existential crisis: the inevitability of death. What The Weeknd has accomplished is exemplary of what most artists strive for when constructing a solid foundation for a concept album so broadly abstract—the duality of love and death.

Dawn FM
The Weeknd
Republic, Jan. 7

Essentially, The Weeknd gives listeners a first-person perspective on reaching the “light at the end of the tunnel” following life. While on this journey, we tune into a radio station that sets the soundtrack to the inevitable climb of Jacob’s Ladder, with actor Jim Carrey delivering a soothing yet equally sinister and chilling radio voice. Take that as you will.

The title track opens the album with a spoken-word introduction by Carrey following the growing and sustained ringing melody of woodwinds. It’s followed by an increasingly prominent climbing synth melody. Many of the songs have these seamless transitions that add to the dreamlike quality, while further immersing you into the idea that you’re listening to a live broadcast as each song melds together.

“Gasoline” follows, establishing the ’80s synth-pop style, heavily evocative of acts like New Order or Depeche Mode, by way of Michael Jackson. Zipping synths quickly transition into the funk number, as The Weeknd undergoes the dying process and disconnects from reality. It’s carefree and wistful, like falling into a pleasant slumber. It’s followed by “How Do I Make You Love Me?” on which The Weeknd pines for the affection of a woman who’s still looking for approval from her father—her need driving a wedge between the two.

“Take My Breath” has scaling synths and light, plucking electric guitars that play perfectly into the promiscuity of this track, which is a must-play for a night out at the club. The next song, “Sacrifice,” leans hard into the Michael Jackson influence, with an electric guitar melody reminiscent of “Thriller,” especially once The Weeknd pops in with his vocals. His cold distrust for his lover highlights the fear of hurt The Weeknd is paranoid of experiencing. We then get another spoken-word piece, this time featuring Quincy Jones, as he reflects on his relationships with women being influenced by the loss of his mother to dementia and the antagonistic relationship he had with his stepmother.

Tyler, The Creator makes an appearance on “Here We Go… Again,” rapping about the uncertainty of love and relationships from both internal and external forces, while The Weeknd examines how his success as an artist colors his relationships. “Out of Time” opens with horns backed by light plucking bass and guitar. The Weeknd laments losing out on a relationship he could have had with one of his past girlfriends, who has now moved on to a new relationship. There’s a deep irony that comes into play a little bit later on the album with “Best Friends,” where The Weeknd expresses his desire to keep his relationships as “friends with benefits” for ease of convenience over extremely catchy staccato synth strikes.

Listeners play witness to the feelings of inadequacy that plague The Weeknd’s relationships on “Is There Someone Else?” and “Less Than Zero.” We see the cognitive dissonance on his mind on “I Heard That You’re Married,” featuring Lil Wayne, as The Weeknd grapples with his conflicting desires to be with a married woman while also being troubled by her infidelity. Talk about wanting to have your cake and eat it too. The album closes with Jim Carrey once again as he guides listeners off into that good night, leaving one to ponder the significance of their impact on their own interpersonal relationships.

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