In the days since its release on Thursday night, the Weeknd’s new six-song EP has been widely described as a return to the gloomy, minor-key sound with which this Canadian R&B auteur made his name.
And so it is that “My Dear Melancholy,” — the comma, in true auteur fashion, is part of the title — recalls the time before the Weeknd hooked up with producer Max Martin and started cranking out sleek pop hits like “Love Me Harder” and “Can’t Feel My Face.”
But if the EP shares some sonic DNA with the Weeknd’s breakout 2011 mixtapes, all those murky textures can’t obscure how much has changed since then for the singer set to headline Coachella this month.
For one thing, “My Dear Melancholy,” came out mere hours after the Weeknd revealed its existence on Instagram — a surprise attack advisable only for the super-est of superstars (at least if they want to vault instantly to the top of streaming charts, as the Weeknd did).
For another, he’s pretty clearly describing the relationships with famous women that have kept him in tabloid circulation over the past two years. “Wasted Times” has a lyric about an equestrian that most have taken to refer to model Bella Hadid, while “Call Out My Name” seems to invoke Selena Gomez’s recent kidney transplant when he sings, “I almost cut a piece of myself for your life.”
Seven years ago, on “House of Balloons,” that line would’ve summoned a vague sense of dread; now it delivers a shock of celebrity gossip.
Indeed, what most demonstrates the Weeknd’s growth on “My Dear Melancholy,” is the precision of his songwriting, even in material that downplays the flair for structure he developed while working with Martin.
Early Weeknd prioritized vibe over melody and storytelling. But here he draws vivid dramatic scenes like the one in “Try Me,” where he’s texting with an ex who’s involved with another man, and expertly renders complicated emotional states, as in “Wasted Times,” which blends paranoia with self-pity.
And though his producers — including Frank Dukes, Skrillex and Gesaffelstein — largely forgo the immediate hooks required by Top 40 radio, they treat the singer’s supple voice with exactly the kind of care he laments having exhausted.