One of the most anticipated electronic pop albums of this year came from Kiss Land, the major-label debut of The Weeknd, the stage name of Abel Tesfaye, a 23-year-old Canadian singer who came to prominence through a trilogy of mixtapes released in 2011 and 2012. He released these with a great deal of anonymity, refusing to even show his face until after the second mixtape was released, but now not only his face but his signature gravity — and style — defying hair are known by hipsters the world over (I guess normal people as well, since apparently Kiss Land was number two on the Billboard charts). His first mixtape, House of Balloons, was fantastic. His second and third were mediocre. Kiss Land performs the remarkable feat of being so abysmally boring it makes me doubt whether I was right to even like him in the first place.
Kiss Land is an album full of samples and instruments, but somehow it seems the only musical components are echoes, snare drums and Abel’s own (admittedly good) voice. By the end of its 65 minutes, I found myself wondering why he had chosen to have only one song on the album (the album has 12 songs). The only place where he breaks the mold even a little is on the title track, which features not only echoes, drums and Abel, but also samples womens’ screams in the background. It’s not that it is radically different that helps; just that it’s more cohesive and better-constructed.
What really makes the title track stand out is the return Abel takes to his beginnings. On House of Balloons, he sang about drugs and girls, explicit lyrics about hedonism without a speck of remorse for any of the myriad reprehensible actions he shows himself undertaking. It was certainly nothing mom would approve of, but it was scary in a fascinating, very entertaining way. The song “Kiss Land” is the only place where that remains. While on other tracks, such as “Adaptation,” he inserts unconvincing emotion, saying things like “I chose the life, then I realized / She might have been the one, I let it go for a little fun.” A boring line, a bad rhyme and a disingenuous attempt. On “Kiss Land” the song, however, Abel says things like “You can meet me in the room but the kisses ain’t free / You gotta pay with your body / Not really into kisses leading into nothing.” See what I mean about scary?
Abel’s subject matter is unchanged, as is the core of his musical style, but the delivery just isn’t there. The album continues the downward trend in his output, with his lack of songwriting skill showing, as well as his dearth of things to talk about and his limited range as a producer. The album’s absolute low point comes with the track “Live For,” which features Drake, and has easily the worst hook I’ve heard in the past 5 years (and that includes Rebecca Black) — Abel sings “This the s**t that I live for, with the people I’d die for” over and over again. Coincidentally, as that was happening, I was thinking “Please, God, let it stop” over and over again in my head.
As if I needed to, I’ll close this review with one summary statement: Don’t get this album. Please.