4 years have passed since The Weeknd put out his last album Starboy, and since then he released the EP My Dear Melancholy in 2018, along with being featured on countless other projects, from appearing on the Black Panther soundtrack with “Pray For Me” to even making a film appearance in The Safdie Brothers’ Uncut Gems in which he plays his 2012 self and punches Adam Sandler in the face (we’ll come back to that film later).
So, a new album of his is overdue at this point, and with singles like the title track and now top 10 single “Blinding Lights”, this sounded like it was going in a more synth-pop darkwave tone. Plus, “Blinding Lights” is one of the best singles I heard from him in this cycle, and I was thoroughly interested in hearing how it’ll turn out, So, how was After Hours?
Well, I’ll get the one surprise out of the way, and that is… this album has no features. That’s right, this is strictly The Weeknd’s show from start to finish, and while I’m slightly into some of his songs from time to time, when he makes something that hits, it hits. The majority of the album’s content is relationship talk from break-ups to bringing up his vices from back in the day. The first set of lyrics in “Snowchild” pretty much covered that along with the whole “I need to make it or else”… You get the idea.
I used to pray when I was sixteen
If I didn’t make it, then I’d probably make my wrist bleed
Not to mislead, turn my nightmares into big dreams
Whole squad mobbin’ even though we only six deep
I was singing notes while my niggas played with six keys
Walking in the snow before I ever made my wrist freeze
I was blowing smoke, had me dizzy like Gillespie
Niggas had no homes, we were living in the dead streets
You couldn’t find me like I’m Hoffa
Cover girls jumping out the page like they pop ups
“Hardest to Love” immediately shot up to being one of my favorite deep cuts on here from the drum ‘n bass production to the instrumentation sounding richly beautiful, especially when the chorus comes in. The song is all about reminiscing on a relationship full of problems and how he blames himself for that. Also, looking up lyrics for this, there was one comment saying this sounds like an anime outro. I actually wish it was now.
But I’ve been the hardest to love
You’re tryna let me go, yeah
And I can see it, I can see it
I’ve been the hardest to love
It’s hard to let me go, yeah
And I can feel it, I can feel it (Oh, yeah)
Given how “Blinding Lights” had that 80s synth-wave vibe going on, the track that follows, “In Your Eyes,” continues that flair with an added saxophone solo near the end and it’s another song that I keep wanting to come back to. “Scared To Live” is another track about relationships with the theme of doubting love after a big break-up, and this is more of a slow ballad track with an interpolation of Elton John’s “Your Song.” It’s also worth noting that one of the composers for this track is one… Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never.
And why do I bring him up?
As I mentioned before, The Weeknd made a cameo appearance in Uncut Gems, which OPN happened to do the score for, and there were tracks the two of them made for the film that never made the final cut. Lucky for me, he was one of the contributors of the album, having produced two tracks. One of them is “Repeat After Me (Interlude)”, which is basically him saying to his lover, ‘You really don’t love that guy, you’re thinking of me, aren’t you?’ This also has another famous musician on the production side with Kevin Parker of Tame Impala, and while the two of them on production rang a bell in my ears, it’s good but not a highlight of mine. Then there’s the last track “Until I Bleed Out” which did it for me in spades. It serves as the album’s ending with Abel running out of blood to go on, and the sound has a lot of OPN’s signature style along with additional people on it like Prince 85, Notinbed, and of course, Metro Boomin too, who produced several tracks in the album like the first single “Heartless”, which has grown on me a bit. You also get production from long-time Weeknd collaborator Illangelo and big-time pop producer Max Martin.
Oh, and as I’m writing this, there is a deluxe edition of this with remixes from The Chromatics, OPN, The Blaze, a vaporwave remix of “Heartless” featuring Lil Uzi Vert (remember, only on the deluxe version), and the SNL performance of “Scared to Live” which is, frankly, the best version of that song.
Overall, this has been one of The Weeknd’s more interesting projects to date, bringing a synthpop/darkwave vibe incorporated with some trap sounds in there, and the result is just impressive to hear. Yeah, the Weeknd’s usual relationship content is a bit more dark than his previous albums, maybe more in the way of his earlier mixtapes if I can recall. Still, this makes one genuinely fascinating album to listen to.
FINAL VERDICT: Buy it. This album is made to be listen to… after hours or anytime if you want.
AFTER HOURS is on XO/Republic Records and is available on CD, vinyl, digital download and on streaming services.