Favorite Track: "Gasoline" Least Favorite Track: "Starry Eyes"
As someone who grew up in the 2010’s, watching the Weeknd’s astronomical rise to fame has been a bit surreal. His hit mixtape House of Balloons is easily one of the most defining and essential Pop/R&B records of the last 20 years, and since then, he has released a slew of massively successful singles and albums. Whether it be the brooding and sexually charged “The Hills” or the anthemic smash hit “Blinding Lights”, Abel Tesfaye (aka The Weeknd), has been responsible for many of the last decade’s best mainstream tracks, and he has been one of the few artists who seamlessly blends pop appeal and genuine musical talent that still appeals to people who are nitpicky about their musical consumption. His career is nothing short of legendary at this point, and consequently, each new album feels like a complete cultural phenomenon, and his 2022 effort Dawn FM is no exception.
After what may have been the most successful effort of Tesfaye’s in 2020 with After Hours, many listeners were wondering what a new record from him would sound like. The synth-heavy 80’s dance flair of After Hours was nothing short of a trailblazer for a 80’s pop revival, and a continuation of that sound seemed likely due to the immense success it garnered. While many of the musical tropes of After Hours ring true on Dawn FM, there is also something new and innovative about this record that sets it apart from its predecessor.
While many of the synth-heavy aspects of the last record come back for a second round, there is an added focus on danceability on this album, with the production taking heavier influence from techno styles and acts like Daft Punk, who even appeared on his 2016 record Starboy, as well. The album is littered with staccato synths rising and falling in rapid succession, building to maximal choruses that accentuate Abel’s anthemic voice perfectly. Whether it be the groovy and relentlessly infectious chorus of “Take My Breath” or the unique and creative vocal approach to the verses on “Gasoline”, Dawn FM is a stark combination of The Weeknd’s past and present styles, boding well for a creatively lucrative future for the R&B pioneer.
The record also introduces a new musical idea for The Weeknd; an attempt at a concept record. As the name may suggest, the album is structured as if being played through an FM radio station. While this may be a played out concept in the wake of records like Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs for the Deaf and Vince Staples’ FM!, Abel clearly attempts to put his own spin on the classic concept album idea. In interviews promoting the record, Tesfaye alluded to the “103.5 Dawn FM” radio station on the record being a soundtrack to spiritual purgatory, the radio station you would listen to during the transition to the afterlife. The idea is interesting, to say the least, and adds a lot to the record. However, many of the record’s biggest problems lie in its inability to commit completely to said concept. While the idea of having a purgatory radio station casted by none other than Jim Carey is a novel concept, much of the record’s themes don’t contribute to this idea in any new or interesting ways, and actually add too much fluff to what could have been a remarkably concise listening experience.
However, despite the somewhat inconsistent concept and the occasional dud in the tracklist such as “Is There Someone Else” or “Don’t Break My Heart”, Dawn FM still has plenty of highlights to offer. Much of the material here is some of Abel’s best to date, and the majority of the record easily rivals the anthemic nature of After Hours (if not exceeds it). After a short intro track, “Gasoline” opens the record with its sultry verses and melancholic chorus that is emblematic of the classic Weeknd formula. The lyrics are dark and somewhat foreboding, with Abel reflecting on his drug addiction and how it relates to his romantic relationships. While this is a somewhat played out lyrical focus for him at this point in his career, the structure of the track is solid and the chorus is more than catchy enough to make up for any lack of originality. “Take My Breath” is easily one of the best tracks on the record, and is also a contender for one of The Weeknd’s best hooks ever. The falsetto vocals, the bumping drums and synthesizers, and the larger-than-life production and mixing on this song all culminate into one of the most euphoric pop choruses in recent memory. It is a prime example as to why Abel shines as an artist, and is a testament to his lasting talent.
While not his best record, Dawn FM is a great addition to The Weeknd’s discography. Despite his foray into even more danceable instrumentals and a new musical palette on his last two records, it is clear that he has not lost his footing as a result. He’s still writing choruses as sharp as those on House of Balloons, and he continues to prove that he is one of the best selling artists of the last decade for a good reason. If Dawn FM is a tone-setter for the pop music landscape of 2022, there is a lot to be optimistic about.