The Weeknd defined a genre with 2012’s Trilogy, most patently with House of Balloons. The hollow, haunting sound combined with lamenting lyrics emanating from that mixtape spawned careers and seeped into the fabric of others. But since the Trilogy, The Weeknd slowly strayed away from the sound he pioneered: forging synthy songs and pop bops. The transition hasn’t always been smooth, moving from the dark rooms with arid atmosphere and chilly keys to punchy drums and 80’s synthesizers meant missteps on subsequent albums. Not now though. After Hours finally sees The Weeknd mastering his new synth aesthetic while still indulging in his usual vices.
Instead of flipping his house for a bright new one, he’s simply digitized and repainted the old one. The gritty, dark rooms now have new glossy paint covering them, but the old colours still bleed through. Off rip, the twinkling synths of ‘Alone Again’ and Tron-like cinematics all but hide The Weeknd asking people to “check my pulse for a second time.” He hasn’t changed, only the environment around him has.
The lifestyle of womanizing, drugs and self-hatred runs deep, the only difference now is Tesfaye’s satisfaction constantly slips through his fingers. There was once a time where “Cali is the mission,” but after years in the Golden State The Weeknd laments “Cali was the mission but now a nigga leaving” over wondering synths on ‘Snowchild’. The lifestyle that The Weeknd was living and singing about before his move is the same, he’s still “sellin’ dreams to these girls with their guard down,” in Las Vegas just with added opulence of chilling “in the Spyder Porsche cruisin’ down the street.”
The glitter of Vegas has trapped The Weeknd within his new sound. After Hours reflects the glitz and glamour of Sin City but shinier doesn’t mean better. New places don’t always mean new and better people. While The Weeknd’s ethereal singing between the buzzing bass of ‘Faith’ and the 80’s prom throwback ‘Save Your Tears’ is a stamp of remarkable versatility, After Hours never approaches the viscerality of his previous work.
No matter how beautifully the paint shimmers on After Hours everyone still knows what the rooms originally looked like, The Weeknd is operating in the same space. He can repaint every inch and when people step through the threshold, they’ll always ask “You repainted? I loved the old colour, why did you change it?