Fresh off a well-received fourth album in After Hours, paired with a brilliant performance at last year’s Super Bowl halftime show, The Weeknd has returned with his next thrilling opus called Dawn FM. The set of 16 songs, interspersed with dialogue and various interludes, plays out like a futuristic radio show meant for the dance floor. The album features a litany of producers, that includes The Weeknd, Max Martin, and Calvin Harris among many others, yet this record never strays from its utmost purpose of being a beacon of light towards its theme of being a metaphor for purgatory. In a recent interview with Billboard, The Weeknd expanded on this concept by explaining, “Picture the album being like the listener is dead. And they’re stuck in this purgatory state, which I always imagined would be like being stuck in traffic waiting to reach the light at the end of the tunnel. And while you’re stuck in traffic, they got a radio station playing in the car, with a radio host guiding you to the light and helping you transition to the other side. So it could feel celebratory, could feel bleak, however, you want to make it feel, but that’s what ‘The Dawn’ is for me.” The styles of new wave, to dance pop, all the way to funk and EDM thrown into the mix, make for an ultra-refreshing listening experience. The first major release of 2022 has arrived in a big way.
The album opens with the title track, and features The Weeknd’s breathy vocals over an spiraling electronic-tinged synth-pop style as he croons, “This part I do alone / I’ll take my lead / I’ll take my lead, on this road / And I need something to hold / Make me believe in make beliefs / ‘Cause after the light is it dark? / Is it dark all alone? / All alone.” These vocals set the tone for the futuristic radio show as the listener transports into a world that only this talented artist could create.
”Gasoline” features rhythmic-spoken vocals in the first few verses, that bleed away for Abel’s trademark delivery in the chorus. The song has a very 80’s, new-wave vibe to it, and could’ve easily been placed on the Grand Theft Auto: Vice City soundtrack had the song even existed around that timeframe. Other early tracks like “How Do I Make You Love Me?” and the brilliant single, “Take My Breath” clearly have a Michael Jackson influence to them, and yet The Weeknd and his group of executive producers make each of these songs sound like they’re on the cutting edge of creativity. On the latter track, especially, The Weeknd’s ability to convey such rich emotion in his lyrics speak volumes to his growth as a songwriter. The first verse of, “I saw the fire in your eyes / I saw the fire when I look into your eyes / You tell me things you wanna try (Uh) / I know temptation is the devil in disguise / You risk it all to feel alive, oh yeah / You’re offering yourself to me like sacrifice / You said you do this all the time / Tell me you love me if I bring you to the light,” features a back and forth of falsetto vocals to his more “standard” vocal delivery, and yet each style is equally captivating.
”Sacrifice” brings out some of the funk guitar and R&B elements that The Weeknd has cut his teeth to in the early stages of his career, and he continues to showcase his unlimited range and growth as a musician here. The first interlude of “A Tale By Quincy” gives the listener a brief reprieve and sets the tone for the middle section of Dawn FM. “Out of Time” follows the spoken word interlude with a style very similar to Michael Jackson’s ballads and mid-tempo tracks found on Bad, and still the songs remain at their utmost listenable.
The first major collaboration in the set comes in the form of “Here We Go…Again” that features a great guest spot by Tyler, The Creator. The rapped bridge of, “Although this love is strong to me / Some things can change, go wrong with me / We don’t know how it’s gonna be / Forever is too long to me / We don’t need the government involved because we like to touch / We don’t need no damn religion tellin’ us that we in love / But if we did crush down the road / Spendin’ lawyer fees up / Pen and pack gon’ save my ass if these feelings freeze up / You gon’ sign this prenup…” breaks up some of the trademark croons from The Weekend, and makes for a nice change of pace. The song closes out with a quick reminder of the 103.5 Dawn FM station, and continues to the storyline nicely.
The back half opens with “Best Friends,” that features a bouncing, synth-dripping beat over The Weeknd’s great vocals commanding the song. “Is There Someone Else?” ended up being one of my favorites in this set that has no shortage of great material, and the heavy synth elements perfectly complement the softer-toned vocals. He ponders on the chorus about a relationship in flux of, “Oh, is there someone else or not? / ‘Cause I wanna keep you close / I don’t wanna lose my spot / ‘Cause I need to know / If you’re hurting him, or you’re hurting me / If I ain’t with you, I don’t wanna be / Is there someone else or not? / Ooh, or not.”
If Dawn FM has any faults, they are very hard to recognize, yet some of the songs blend so well together that it can be difficult to distinguish the difference between them. For example, “Starry Eyes” plays out like an intro to “Every Angel is Terrifying,” yet the heavy-laced synth in the beginning of the latter track clearly marks a new avenue forward. The middle of the song plays out like a Prince track, while the back of the track ends up sounding like a commercial over a futuristic beat.
The Weeknd gets things back on the right path in a big way with “Don’t Break My Heart,” a tender ballad, laced with a warning of falling into a trap with a past lover. He explains on the second verse, “And the girl I used to love / We broke up in the club / And I almost died in the discotheque / And now, I know she wasn’t right for me, enemy / I kept coming back for more / I’d rather you would die for me, destiny / And this time I know for sure.” The Weeknd’s vulnerability is on full display on this song, and yet he makes it clear that he would be ready to move on given the slightest slip-up in the relationship.
”I Heard You’re Married” features a brief cameo/collaboration from Lil Wayne, and yet the song ends up sounding pretty refreshing on the tail end of the record. “Less Than Zero” is an equally thrilling listen that sounds like floating on air, as the listener finally finds the light at the end of the tunnel. Album closer “Phantom Regret by Jim” brings closure to the futuristic radio broadcast and marks the end of a captivating chapter in The Weeknd’s discography. All things told, this wasn’t the album I expected The Weeknd to create at this stage in his career, but you can be damn sure it’s the record I’m ecstatic exists in this world.