Making a highly anticipated debut album has to be a tough thing. Hyping music listeners on an artist whose previous work they know nothing of (mainly because it’s nonexistent) seems damn near impossible. For whatever reason, every year we see the emergence of several “hype bands,” and this year has already given us artists like Yuck and WU LYF, but one of the biggest breakout stories of a hype band has come from Toronto’s The Weeknd, the stage name of Abel Tesfaye. Virtually unknown until a couple of months before the release of his debut mixtape, the Canadian singer somehow managed to build quite the fanbase, and wowed critics with his entry into the music world, House of Balloons. Coming through with his promise of two more mixtapes this year, he has released his second mixtape Thursday, an album that may not hit as quickly as his debut, but it can do so just as hard…well, sometimes.
The mixtape unfortunately gets off to a flimsy start with the first two tracks “Lonely Star” and “Life of the Party,” which musically portray the album’s pitfalls: covered-up vocals and lengthy songs. Despite this, the songs do serve a purpose, which is to introduce the listener to the story being told. Like its predecessor, Thursday is a concept album; this time the story focuses around the lead character’s (and narrator) life in a broken relationship. Due to his life of partying and drug-dealing he is not able to pay attention to his girlfriend, who he promises to see every Thursday (get it?). The two opening tracks are among the weakest in The Weeknd’s catalog, but they do serve in setting up the concept of the album.
Getting through the longevity of the first two tracks ends up being rewarding, as “Thursday” follows, which is up to par with most tracks on House of Balloons. While the vocal issue is still present, “Thursday” is able to shine thanks to its stunning beat, which sounds like it could have easily come out of an ambient album. From the very beginning, this song is a clear standout in the mixtape. The Weeknd creates a streak of great songs by following “Thursday” with two more standouts.
The two tracks following “Thursday” may be growers, but they eventually grow quite nicely. While I’ve never quite liked Drake’s music, he really seems at home in his guest appearance on “The Zone.” By adding another voice to the mix, The Weeknd is able to create more variety in a track that would have otherwise dragged on for six minutes. Drake doesn’t come on until the end of the track, but by rapping his verse instead of singing it, he closes the song with a strong point. More straightforward than most songs on Thursday, “The Birds Pt.1” is a welcome three minute addition to the record. Tesfaye is finally able to showcase his vocal talent to a full extent by making his voice much more prominent in the mix. The track also comes off more aggressively; with the pounding percussion that drives the song, and the stronger vocals, “The Birds Pt.1” isn’t another ambient song, but rather a completely fleshed out R&B cut.
One of the main things that keeps the album’s second half floating is Tesfaye’s voice, which finally stops hiding behind the atmospheric beats. It really shows how much power Tesfaye’s voice has, but in tracks like “Rolling Stone” he ditches the electronics and goes full-on acoustic. Moving his voice to the forefront of the song, he reminds us why it was that he gained so much hype off a simple mixtape, with his vocals being superb and nearly flawless. Hell, his voice even overshadows one of the main problems of the album, which are the drawn out tracks. For example “Gone,” which at eight minutes is Thursday’s longest track, doesn’t seem nearly as long as the early songs. Simply put, Tesfaye’s voice is fascinating and should not be hidden.
Overall, Thursday takes time to grow on the listener. Some of the tracks on the second half will take some time to really click, while others (I’m looking at you “Lonely Star”) never seem to reach a fulfilling point. For an album with only nine songs, having weak tracks is a huge problem. However, the pros outweigh the cons here, and it must be said that Thursday is another fantastic addition to the career of a new-born star who will most likely get even bigger in the months to come.