Do androids dream of electric sheep? I don’t know. But I bet they nod approvingly to the Weeknd’s new album, even if they can’t dance to it. Released in the wee hours on Friday, After Hours is Abel Tesfaye’s first full-length disc since 2016′s Starboy and a follow-up to the 2018 EP My Dear Melancholy. It’s bleak, opiated and sonically futuristic. One might not call it conceptual, but the 14 cutting-edge, cinematic tracks do almost bleed into each other, ending with Until I Bleed Out, which is about ending it.
With its tempo set to tripping, the material isn’t for discos. Tunes that might endure for the ages are not immediately apparent. Track-to-track, though, the level is consistently high.
Social distancing? The dark-wave R&B is so beautifully moody it doesn’t even want to be in the same room with itself. To a world in which day can feel like the dead of night, After Hours arrives right on time.
All that and a puerile reference to Philip K. Dick (who wrote the Blade Runner-inspiring novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) that will have Bentley-riding posses yukking it up locker-room style.
The Toronto-born Tesfaye is, of course, a pop superstar. Conspicuously enigmatic in persona, he uses song lyrics to portray an emotionally wounded, narcissistic and sexually enthusiastic bad boy who relies on a trembling, lonely falsetto to bail him out of his romantic transgressions. He’s complicated. Confused. We may know the Weekend, but not the real Abel.
“Take off my disguise, I’m living someone else’s life," he would have us believe on the album-opening Alone Again. "Suppressing who I was inside, so I throw 2,000 ones in the sky.” Doctors have a term for that. It’s called Drake’s Disease.
If the Weeknd’s past hit Can’t Feel My Face alludes to a cocaine high, After Hours might be his cry for lithium. On Too Late: “Bad thoughts inside my mind when the darkness comes.” On Snowchild: “I used to pray when I was sixteen, if I didn’t make it then I’d probably make my wrist bleed.” He takes a break from self-harming talk for some on-brand misogyny in Escape From LA, but, by the album’s end, we’re back to Until I Bleed Out.
After Hours is not a suicide note, though. It’s just one more letter to melancholy – perhaps the Weeknd’s best yet.