Since releasing “After Hours” in March 2020, The Weeknd has, like the rest of the world, lived through an isolating pandemic. His latest album, “Dawn FM,” carries listeners out of that darkness into a dance-worthy '80s fantasy.
Left behind is the blood-slashed, manic super-villain singing about overindulgence and self-loathing we last saw in “After Hours” for a more mature and playful persona most interested in dancing off the pain of melancholia (and the pandemic) through the many dance-pop and escapist songs from the Toronto-born singer's latest 16-track album.
“Dawn FM” is certainly the singer's most creative project yet. The album plays like a radio station, featuring autobiographical storytelling from musical icon Quincy Jones and a DJ voiced by actor and comedian Jim Carrey. The album even includes advert breaks selling fictional afterlife products and a catchy radio jingle playing every few songs.
“You are now listening to 103.5 Dawn FM, you've been in the dark way too long,” Carrey's voice quips in the first track. “It's time to walk into the light.”
Collaborations sweep across the album, including features from Tyler, the Creator in “Here We Go Again” featuring backup vocals by the Beach Boys' Bruce Johnston; Calvin Harris and Lil Wayne in “I Heard You're Married” and Swedish House Mafia in “How Do I Make You Love Me?” “Sacrifice” also contains a sample from Alicia Myer's “I Want to Thank You,” another reference to the dance-pop-infused '80s.
Thankfully, The Weeknd's angelic voice and dark lyricism remains. The track order reflects the arc of a relationship. In “Gasoline,” the lovestruck Grammy-winner sings, “I love it when you watch me sleep.” By the album's mid-point, he is deep in regret on “Out of Time” and love-scarred and hardened on “Don't Break My Heart.” Despite the pain, the album's maturity is expressed in the closing track, “Phantom Regret,” written by Carrey who says, “Heaven's for those who let go of regret.”
The singer known for making even the most content soul feel deep heartache has produced an escapist fantasy that makes it hard to sit still. The chaotic combination of sorrowful lyrics, dance pop and at times, birds tweeting above the sound of gushing waterfalls shouldn't theoretically work, except that there are no such rules for our world as it now is.
Carrey's parting words at the album's end sum it up spiritually: “May peace be with you.”