Admittedly, I'm not much of a fan of The Weeknd. I best know his oeuvre from six years ago, when his chart-topping hits Starboy and Can't Feel My Face dominated Billboard and subsequently reached a billion views each on YouTube. To myself, he seemed to have the perfunctory status of any other successful pop singer in LA: a wacky haircut, plenty of fans, and love songs constantly on replay. But as he's proven, plenty can change within half a decade. His recently released album, Dawn FM, seems to be more narrative art than anything else—and it doesn't hurt that it contains plenty of what made the singer popular in the first place: a smooth, caramel voice and a distinctly R&B sound that can only be attributed to some pretty great musicians.
Before anything else, it's clear that this album has plenty of talent. The legendary Quincy Jones lends his voice to the sixth track (out of sixteen), entitled A Tale by Quincy. Lil Wayne, Tyler the Creator, and Jim Carrey have also given a helping hand—or rather, voice—to this unique album. The entire concept of it is rather notable: a transition from death to purgatory and perhaps, heaven. At the beginning we, the listener, are greeted by a nameless radio DJ (voiced by The Weeknd's neighbour, Jim Carrey) in the eponymous first track of Dawn FM. "You are now listening to 103.5 Dawn FM," it says. "You've been in the dark for way too long. It's time to walk into the light."
Right off the bat, the songs on the album emulate an 80s style genre. There's plenty of synth and also plenty of emotion. Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd) had admitted in an earlier interview that he had worked on this album while depressed and the first four tracks after Dawn FM reflect this. In Gasoline, Tesfaye croons: "And if I finally die in peace / Just wrap my body in these sheets (Sheets) / And pour out the gasolinе / It don't mean much to me". As in previous albums, The Weeknd also turns to romantic experiences as an inspiration for his lyrics. How Do I Make You Love Me? is almost a cry for help: desperation and longing wrapped up in techno-style melodies and upbeat composition. But perhaps the narrative only becomes clearer after a screening of the music videos for Take My Breath and Sacrifice. Though they are two separate tracks, one segues seamlessly into the other. Both intense, they show scenes of him being choked, suffocating, and ultimately being strapped onto a circular platform. Towards the end, it becomes a cohesive part of the album's narrative as The Weeknd seems to be sucked into "the light", perhaps what the nameless DJ has been referring to all along.
The sixth track is something of a spoken word with Quincy Jones, and a preemptive explanation to the upcoming tracks of the album. In it, Jones talks about having difficulty maintaining relationships with women in his life. This moves on towards multiple songs, all of which are an ode to toxic love and a hodgepodge of different affairs (one of which, listeners speculate, is of Ariana Grande). In some, (such as in Best Friends), Tesfaye is heard rejecting a woman's feelings whereas in others (such as I Heard You're Married ft Lil Wayne), he seems to be on the receiving end of rejection. We can never be sure where exactly he stands on love, but this variety adds to the overarching theme of the album, which we better understand on the last track, Phantom Regret by Jim.