If you’re not ready to face the fact that one day you will die and be dead, The Weeknd’s Dawn FM is not for you.
There’s nothing like starting a new year with an hour of soft-pop contemplation of what happens to us in the hereafter, taking stock of our actions in life and driving ever forwards towards “the dawn” and whatever that may hold – is it the rising sun to cleanse us of our sins or a ball of burning gas to torture us forever?
The album’s conceit is of a radio station playing in heaven’s waiting room, hosted by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind actor Jim Carrey (with whom The Weeknd supposedly bonded over a mutual appreciation for telescopes, of all things).
There’s a real hodge-podge of party producers – Swedish House Mafia, Max Martin, Calvin Harris – although whether there are any party bangers on here really depends on your definition of a banger.
There’s no dancefloor-dominating “Can’t Feel My Face” but there are a few darker, hip-shimmying “The Hills” style songs, if you see what I’m saying.
The overarching influence of dance producer Oneohtrix Point Never gives Dawn FM a circular feel, that all the songs are somehow the same song with the same easy verve of 80s Michael Jackson and the same coffee-and-sunsets soft focus of a 90s soul compilation.
Quincy Jones, though not credited as a producer, provides a sad interlude recounting his familial failings (“Looking back’s a bitch isn’t it,” he chuckles) and his musical influence is all over the album as it is The Weeknd’s entire career.
Yet, the infinite water-treading of Dawn FM gives The Weeknd uncharacteristic room to grow and change. Though much of his trademark commitment-phobia and preference for drugs over love is present, he starts to assess his failings, to warn his lovers off him and, finally, to find himself with the shoe on the other foot.
He begins the album with a girl he’s with because she turns him over so he won’t choke to death on his own vomit as he sleeps and ends it starry-eyed over a woman who needs nothing from him but time and patience.
There are some stylistically questionable choices – odd British accents and lines like “I love it when we climax” (“Best Friends”) could maybe have been left in the first draft – but it’s hard not to admire Dawn FM as an articulate stock-take of a life not always well lived.
Some albums feel so laser focused on making a point that they fall out of step with themselves. But Dawn FM has that cohesion, that perfect marriage of music, narrative and emotion. And isn’t that exactly what we’re aiming for in life, if you boil it right down? Harmony, peace and the promise of a new dawn.
Songs to stream: “Don’t Break My Heart”, “Starry Eyes”, “Less Than Zero”