For his latest album titled “Dawn FM,” hit pop music act The Weeknd sticks with the 80’s tinged, retro-pop-dance and synth sound that defined the last decade.
So, is it a concept album? It certainly sounds like one, especially with opening track “Dawn FM” setting up the vibe right at the start. The synth-laden, 1 minute-36 second intro, eventually morphs into a voice-over from an FM station (the imaginary 103.5 Dawn FM, duh) and invites the listener to shape up as a modulated FM DJ voice goes: “You’ve been in the dark too long. It’s time to step into the light and accept your fate with open arms.”
Right away, posting this existential question, it goes on: “Scared? Don’t worry. We’ll be there to hold your hand and guide you through this painless transition.” Whatever ‘transition’ the mellowed V.O. (done by an ironic sounding Jim Carrey) is referring to you can be sure that The Weeknd, real name Abel Tesfaye will reveal it in good time as the album goes.
First full track “Gasoline” initially features a Phil Oakley / Dave Gahan-sounding vocal from OPN (Oneohtrix Point Never a.k.a. Daniel Lopatin). The 80’s electronic dance / New wave sound references is apparent, but The Weeknd brings it right to 2022 with that all-too familiar airy vocal as it sings one of the key vocal hooks: “And If I finally die in peace/ just let my body in these sheets and pour out the gasoline / it done mean much to me”
Upbeat, electro-synth club track “How Do I Make You Love Me” follows almost seamlessly. And it was meant to be that way, as “Take My Breath” continues what the previous track started. And we could just hear in our mind’s eye the concert crowd going wild as The Weeknd plays these songs in succession, complete with easy sing-along hook choruses.
The riff on danceable “Sacrifice” sounds like it’s been synthesized from something coming from the King of Pop. Which isn’t far off, as The Weeknd sounds influenced by MJ. The track’s dance-heavy beats are courtesy of a mish-mash of heavy hitting producers from Swedish House Mafia, Max Martin, Oscar Holter and The Weeknd.
Speaking of Michael Jackson, a key figure on the whole Jackson mythos guest stars as a Quincy Jones interview excerpt is used and played over a smart sounding funky-pop progression on “A Tale Of Quincy,” which eventually morphs into a full song titled “Out Of Time” just as Jones finishes his soliloquy: “Looking back is a bitch isn’t it?”
Soulful “Here We Go…Again” (feat. Tyler, The Creator) is a much-welcomed break from the 80’s retro wave and pop. It’s 80s inspired nonetheless, the good soul-pop kind.
At this point, the Canadian singer-songwriter-producer’s theme is apparent. “Dawn FM” is an existential romp, an imagining of what comes after death. A stylized vision of the afterlife seen through the colorful lens of the 80s. A future seen by The Weeknd where even death is commercialized. Just like the future envisioned in “Every Angel is Terrifying.”
But for song value, “Dawn FM” is an album that you can easily latch onto. “Don’t Break My Heart,” “I Heard You’re Married” (feat. Lil Wayne) are easily modern-day dance floor anthems. “Less Than Zero” (there’s that 80s reference again) is an easy favorite amongst strong sounding previous tracks.
And in a moment that seems to recall Vincent Price’s iconic voice-over on Thriller, a disembodied sounding Jim Carrey returns on the prog-rock sounding instrumental of “Phantom Regret by Jim” as his rhythmic delivery offers more 80’s references and some mind-blowing truths about life.