The Weeknd “Echoes Of Silence” opens with a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana”—a full blown genuine cover of a (and I don’t mean this in a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” sense) bodacious song that is the perfect beginning to a near-perfect album. “Dirty Diana” fell in Jackson’s post-”Bad” career and thus a tad on the new jack swing side, which works aces for Abel Tesfaye’s new status as Michael-du-jour. You think I’m wrong? Take a listen to the first Weeknd album “House Of Balloons,” which serves as a great introduction to Tesfaye’s R&B/ IDM/ fuck-core sensation.
TWO QUESTIONS: How does someone open their third album with a Michael Jackson cover? And: does it hold up to the rest of the mixtapes he’s put out this year? The answer is an emphatic “yep.” The Weeknd has done more in a year than most R&B artists have done in a year – and it shows – for this comes across as the speediest of the trilogy of mixtapes he’s released this year. What “House Of Balloons” has in atmosphere and “Thursday” had in cockiness “Echoes Of Silence” seems to make up for in sheer fuckitude (if I may be so bold as to coin a phrase). Where the other two falter, this one comes up in spades and draws the bridge between the inherent sexual tension of his music and the image of someone who has barely been photographed.
Not until the fourth track, “The Host,” does a line about Diet Coke rear itself back into memory and you realize you’re listening to an album. It pulls a reverse Drake—it hits you as a cohesive album far before it hits you song-by-song. The guitars hit harder than they sounded on the (frankly underwhelming) “Thursday,” but by the 3/4 mark in “The Host” (a near 8-minute epic) you begin to understand the arc Abel has been getting at for the last three albums—these weren’t to be listened to one by one, but rather in a three-episode arc. About enough time to begin the startup, upturn, and comedown of a bizarre drug trip trilogy.
The mid-point of the album, “Initiation” and “Same Old Song,” come and go without a hook between them but with an energy that wasn’t there when The Weeknd made his appearances on label-mate Drake’s platinum “Take Care.” “Same Old Song” ends with a sketch, a rarity on any of the Weeknd’s albums so far.
“The Fall” is Tesfaye’s most interesting song to date: it balances a solid-as-steel hook with a spectacular slow build to a climax that rivals Bladerunner in its batshit futuristic intensity. It’s an almost clinical Prince-like song that doesn’t fully solidify itself until “Next.”
If The Weeknd’s three mixtapes had been released under a major label nobody would believe them—he is that good. “Next” not only cements that but actually says it in the chorus: “You just want me ’cause I’m next?” It is infinitely better than any other R&B release of the year, without even trying. “Next” is his statement, and a perfect entry point. It’s hard to not talk about this album in hyperbole, if only because The Weeknd’s career deserves it.
“Echoes of Silence” goes above and beyond what his last mixtapes did; it becomes a fitting final act to what has been a stellar year to a still mostly unknown R&B prodigy. And by no means should one not call him a prodigy—as of this writing he’s still unsigned and still self-releasing his mixtapes. He may have Drake in his corner, but this is far, far ahead of Drake’s “Take Care” in terms of songwriting and overall intensity. It may end on a middling note, but listening to The Weeknd’s three album magnum opus it’s clear that this was the perfect end to a near-perfect trilogy.
Listen to “Echoes of Silence” below: