Euphoric and unnerving
Neive McCarthy
11:28 7th January 2022

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Five albums and over a decade into his career, and there are certain things a listener might come to expect when first listening to a new album by The Weeknd. Splashes of '80s influences, his inimitable falsetto and the dark aesthetics lingering across it all are the usual hallmarks of an Abel Tesfaye release. Settling in to listen to his latest offering, Dawn FM, one thing you certainly wouldn’t be expecting to hear is the familiar tones of Jim Carrey.

“You’ve been in the dark for way too long,” Carrey declares on the titular opening track, adopting the role of mentor and radio host. “It’s time to walk into the light and accept your fate with open arms.” 

The album continues to play out in that self-aware, psychological manner, the fictional radio station acting as a spiritual guide towards a new age of acceptance and assurance. The tender, encouraging tone of Carrey’s interjections do at times lean toward eerily apocalyptic, and there are lingering remnants of the haunted romanticism The Weeknd once revelled in. Yet, on Dawn FM, it is approached with a fresh mind and new maturity that leads the whole project into a sense of brimming optimism. 

Dawn FM may rest on a bed of dark synth and distorted vocals—feeling more like a neon-lit late-night adventure than the crisp air and birdsong of an early morning that the beginning notes promise—but lyrically it turns over a new leaf. The album artwork sees The Weeknd in the guise of old age, and it speaks to the new self-reflective and secure perspective he has discovered. Gone are the days of provocative hedonism and in their place there is unashamed admittance of struggle and flaws like on ‘Out of Time’, or acknowledgment of previous toxicity and a need to prioritise your own needs as on ‘Sacrifice’. Whilst sonically it might be heady and full of anthems primed for the dancefloor, this new gaze lends the album an underlying sense of growth and contentment.

‘Here We Go…Again’ featuring Tyler, The Creator is a standout meditation on diving into love despite its difficulties, a more low-key moment amidst the high energy grooves the rest of the album returns to. Elsewhere, moments like ‘Take My Breath’ usher in an intensity which rises so rapidly that it eventually does what it says on the tin and leaves you totally breathless. 

After Hours was always going to be a tough act to follow, but on Dawn FM, The Weeknd cements himself as a master of the cinematic, and one of the most innovative artists in pop right now. It’s stratospheric in size and draped in shadows and mystique—The Weeknd masterfully crafts an album that is simultaneously euphoric and unnerving. Despite the heart-pounding ups and downs of the futuristic world he creates on Dawn FM, there is a resounding sense that on his latest release, the creativity and intelligence woven into each track has crafted an album overflowing with fulfilment and excellence.

Dawn FM is out now. 

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