The Weeknd – “Dawn FM”
In the wake of his phenomenal hit, “Blinding Lights”, and the album, “After Hours”, The Weeknd aka Canadian producer and writer Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, returns with his fifth studio album, “Dawn FM”, which has been sandwiched in between collaborations with fellow Canadian, Belly, with the songs “Die For It” and “Better Believe”, for Belly’s 2020 album, “See You Next Wednesday”. Tesfaye has also been busy working with Kanye West on the track “Hurricane” for his most recent album, “Donda” and with Swedish House Mafia on their smash hit, “Moth To A Flame”. The Weeknd launched “Dawn FM” earlier in 2021 with the magnificent “Take My Breath” and pre-album release, “Sacrifice”.
“Dawn FM” is more of the same retro sounds that had been used to such immense success with “After Hours” as we tune into radio station “Dawn FM” with the opening ‘interlude’ before launching into a non-stop, one after another, play of tracks from his own imagination with more than a liberal splash of 80’s synth-pop, 90’s dance with a 21st century freshness and approach to what has gone before, mostly due to his production partnership with Max Martin. With the station tuned in, we slide into an early 80’s Human League-esque slice of “Gasoline”, with vocalisations and buckets of weird and wonderful sounds, yet, at the same time, sounding new, as if the 80’s had never happened at all. Pretty darn clever I reckon! The tone and tempo is taken down with “How Do I Make You Love Me?”, more of a mid-80’s retrowave anthem that recalls great movies of the time like ‘Top Gun’.
The aforementioned majesty of “Take My Breath” cranks up the 80’s synth to the max next with a faint, added splash of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, particularly in the lengthy, dark middle section, before lifting back up to the light with the final chorus, hardly surprising as the song is co-written with Oscar Holter, one of the chief engineers of “Blinding Lights”. This continues with the latest single, “Sacrifice”, which has its feet firmly rooted in 1985 and serves as a showcase for Tesfaye’s light and sublime vocals, without any interference, to layer the gorgeous vibes of this track. So, if you get to work with the legendary composer and songwriter, Mr. Quincy Jones, what do you call the song? Well, “A Tale By Quincy” of course! This is another brief interlude that features the man himself talking about aspects in his life, set to some lush soul grooves, just like a commercial or news item on a radio station before the next song plays.
…which is the gorgeous 80’s synth-ballad, “Out Of Time”, another track that focuses of Tesfaye’s varied and soulful vocal range as the dreamy harmony leaves you floating ever so and leaves you there in perpetual bliss. The station prompt reminds you at this halfway point that you are tuned into 103.5 Dawn FM as we launch into “Here We Go…Again”, more sloppy loved up lushness which features American rapper Tyler, the Creator on guest vocals, heard in the middle section of this track, which is the most unashamed bash at a Michael Jackson 80’s ballad if ever there was. The pulse is turned up with “Best Friends” with its erratic and addictive beat, which like many tracks on this album, is very short and brief, leaving you wanting much more. Like a proper radio station, often you just hate it when they cut songs short to move on to something else, that’s what “Dawn FM” is all about! The good thing about this album is you can just rewind or skip back to the track you want to hear again and again.
The soulful sounds continue with “Is There Someone Else?”, which oozes like caramel throughout and finishes with a crescendo of synths till it looses the last spark of electricity to…”Starry Eyes”. Often you don’t realise that one song has closed and another one begins until it’s over and it works here so well with the short yet profound “Starry Eyes”, a track that relies on its inner story rather than heavy production. Tesfaye, Martin and Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never all co-produce the trio of songs in this part of the album, which continues with the odd, full commercial ‘song’, “Every Angel Is Terrifying”, its a near-three minute advertisement set to an 80’s synth drumbeat. What happens if you call 1-800-444-444, one can only guess… Back to the music. “Don’t Break My Heart”, a down-tempo mood track that takes us into late night listening on “Dawn FM”. It’s still 1985, so don’t worry, time has not marched forward that far!
“I Heard You’re Married” is a standout from the first few seconds on hearing the superbly replicated mid-80’s soundtrack that could have very easily just been copied from any number of hits of the time and reposted with The Weeknd’s own lyrics and vocals. The song is co-produced with Britain’s Calvin Harris and features more star power with rapper, Lil Wayne, providing a mid-section lyrical odyssey and joins in with the final choruses, which sees the song actually fade away, the first to do so. It gives way to the open atmosphere of “Less Than Zero”, a 2-bit early 80’s ditty with a faint sound of acoustic guitar throughout together with plenty of Vince Clarke sounding plinks and plonks that could be deliberate or perhaps, and I would like to think this, unplanned. Either way, the song is another beauty and utterly sublime.
Star power concludes “Dawn FM”, with actor Jim ‘Ace Ventura’ Carrey joining in for…”Phantom Regret By Jim”. As with “Every Angel Is Terrifying”, this feels more like a commercial or a feature, as Jim questions your time tuned into 103.5 Dawn FM. Were you sane? Were you stoned? I’m sure it sounds/sounded equally immense either way! Maybe the concept of using a fictional radio station as an album has been used before. Maybe it hasn’t. One thing is for sure, it’s been done with style and class here and with any number of huge potential hits played during tonight’s program. If you’re a kid that grew up in the 80’s (like Me) then you will just revel in the sounds of this 16-track escape back in time 35+ years and recall all those composers and artists that influenced you own listening and music tastes from a decade that really is not over or finished yet! Tune in next time…