Review: The Weeknd Matures On Introspective ‘After Hours’
After the short 15-month gap between The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind The Madness and Starboy, the wait between Starboy and After Hours – more than three years – has felt like a long time. Sure, we got his 6-track EP, My Dear Melancholy, to tide us over, but it’s clear that The Weeknd wanted put more care into this album. It’s paid off, because After Hours is a strong record that mixes in all the best of The Weeknd’s musical styles.
Whereas Starboy was upbeat and confident, After Hours tones it down with a moodier atmosphere. It’s often as dark as My Dear Melancholy, and its title is fitting: The new album feels like the downtime after a long day, a record that lurks in the shadows and and soundtracks the night. At times, After Hours dives into the lowest feelings that only come out when you’re alone; at others, the songs feel like a late-hours house party – still gloomy or biting, but wrapped a shinier package.
Some of the songs here focus on romantic relationships and the aftermath of a breakup. But instead of anger and blame, these tracks find The Weeknd admitting his own faults and wishing his ex the best. The lyrics come from a place of maturity and love, as in “Hardest To Love” and “Scared To Live.” Other songs indicate a desire to reunite with an ex – see “Save Your Tears” and “Repeat After Me” – but while the former sounds earnest, that latter comes off as sinister.
After Hours also dives into The Weeknd’s personal struggles, with his usual themes of money, fame, and substance abuse making appearances. But even here, the lyrics around these subjects come from a different place – darker, more exhausted, and ready to move on. Some of the themes are quite heavy – see the closing track – and they balance out some of the lighter moments.
Overall, it’s a very cohesive album, with the songs blurring into each other and lyrics calling back to other songs on the record. There’s a clear narrative, and it could work as a story arc from beginning to end. Even with some diversity between the songs – they rise and fall in parts, preventing it from becoming monotonous and boring – they still fit together.
After Hours is introspective, remorseful, and mature, and it shows The Weeknd evolving both as a musician and as a person. It’s not as instant and catchy as Starboy or Beauty Behind The Madness, but it’s a strong effort with excellent, meaningful songs and a promise of further growth on future albums.
Track by Track
“Alone Again” – After Hours glides in gently, with the fluttery sounds of synths giving opener “Alone Again” a slow and atmospheric vibe. It sounds dreamy, but it’s also quite moody. The Weeknd’s vocals are drenched in reverb, furthering the other-worldly sound. The song slowly builds up with low synths and twinkles as he croons the bridge. “Alone Again” is an experience, and an unexpected but intriguing way to start the album.
“Too Late” – “Alone Again” seamlessly fades into “Too Late,” a similarly slow and moody song. But this time, extra synths, shouts of “hey,” and a stronger beat fill out the track. The Weeknd shows off his signature falsetto vocals, with plenty of reverb to keep things hazy. He ominously observes, “It’s way too late to save our souls.” “Too Late” affirms the tone set in the opening track.
“Hardest To Love” – An instant standout on the album, “Hardest To Love” opens with subtle static and a heavenly soundscape. It has 1980s R&B influences, low synths, and strong percussion. The chorus is delightful – falsetto amplifying a delicate melody – yet its lyrics describe The Weeknd’s continued shame. He admits that he’s not making this relationship easy and understands why his girlfriend is ready to leave him. A line about their house not feeling like a home will come up again later on the title track, and it’s heartbreaking both times. “Hardest To Love” is tender yet spellbinding.
“Scared To Live” – The Weeknd debuted “Scared To Live” during a performance on SNL nearly two weeks ago, and the album version lives up to that spectacular introduction. “Scared To Live” is a heartfelt ballad straight out of the 1980s, built on a slow beat and gentle keyboard melody. The Weeknd sings to his ex-girlfriend of the ways he failed in the relationship. But it’s not a bitter list; rather, he honestly admits his wrongdoings and what he wishes he’d done differently. On the chorus, he pleads that she not be afraid to go out and live her life fully now that she’s without him. He genuinely wants to her to be happy and find joy and love again. It’s a sincere and heartbreaking song, and it comes from a place of maturity.
“Snowchild” – The middle of After Hours grows murky, starting here and followed up on track 6. “Snowchild” has a gentle start before percussion crashes in. The Weeknd reminisces about dark moments when he was just 16, those troubles helping pave the way for his rocky adulthood. The melody is flatter, and the R&B tune stays low and moody. Our only respite comes from futuristic blips and a sunny pause for laughter and the sound of birdcalls. This is a harder song that may take some more time to settle.
“Escape From LA” – Continuing with the murky middle, “Escape From LA” feels like a sequel to “Snowchild,” but this time shifts focus to romantic and sexual relationships and his material possessions. The song starts with pulsing and two false starts before confirming its slow pace. It’s sad and empty, the song of someone jaded and void of hope. This mood can only hold for so long before the album will need to switch gears…
“Heartless” – The first song we heard from After Hours was “Heartless” last November. It’s a welcome change of pace after a few slower songs, but it also builds from the negativity of them. “Heartless” begins in a swirl of kaleidoscopic music, a beat grounding it before The Weeknd starts his first verse. He sings about his directionless, destructive habits, repeating the same tropes common throughout his music. On the chorus, The Weeknd uses these bad habits as evidence that he’s actually heartless. Maybe money and fame have made him this way, but no matter how much he tries, he can’t overcome his stone-cold ways. Rather than marriage in his future, he only foresees misery. It drives home this growing narrative on After Hours.
“Faith” – Entering into the second half of the album, track 8 starts with low, plinking piano and a droning synth. The lyrics continue the dark emotional state of the previous three songs, describing illicit drug use after a year of sobriety, and overdosing is a real possibility. Although The Weeknd is best known for his high tenor, the post-chorus has a surprisingly low hook. On the bridge, he sings that he’s lost his faith and continues to lose his religion each day. Sirens, whooshing atmospheric sounds, and reverb-heavy vocals form the outro for “Faith,” and a brief mention of lights blinding him foreshadow the next song.
“Blinding Lights” – Days after we got “Heartless” last November, “Blinding Lights” came out. The second single for the album, it’s also a highlight here. “Blinding Lights” blurs into focus, a quick drum beat grounding it before those ’80s synths lighten it up. Low bass synths and twinkling higher ones give an ultra-retro soundtrack to The Weeknd’s lovelorn lyrics. After being alone for too long, he hopes that someone can teach him to love. The pre-chorus brings the energy up a notch, The Weeknd describing a cold and deserted Las Vegas. On the chorus, the song smooths out, solidifying its presence as a perfect pop single.
“In Your Eyes” – Reportedly set to become the third single for After Hours, “In Your Eyes” is another standout. From its very first notes, it’s already an infectious banger with ’80s flair. Over energetic, deceptively upbeat music, The Weeknd sings of issues with a romantic partner. He pretends not to notice her lies and pains, just as he tries to hide his own mistakes and regrets. The song grows even better when a saxophone – played by Tomas Jannson – appears in the bridge and again after the last chorus. “In Your Eyes” really lifts up the album and is sure to be a hit.
“Save Your Tears” – The energy continues on track 11. “Save Your Tears” has a driving groove and – you guessed it – ’80s synths, and The Weeknd describes an encounter with his ex. She’s upset with him and ignores him, but he’s belatedly realized he still wants to be with her. He wishes they could get back together and end the sadness of their breakup. Yet he also concedes that she deserves someone better, similar to the message of “Scared To Live.” Strings accentuate the song and eventually bring it to a close. “Save Your Tears” is another highlight here.
“Repeat After Me (Interlude)” – After Hours moves away from the uptempo ’80s songs with its only interlude. “Repeat After Me” starts with old-school keys before getting some industrial percussion and swirling sounds. Distorted vocals describe a devil on your shoulder, indicating the song’s tone. Then The Weeknd launches into the chorus as he says, “You don’t love him if you’re thinking of me.” On the verse, he depicts his ex’s new beau as a rebound or form of revenge on him. But, more eerily, he says she’ll always be his. It’s a hypnotic and arguably cruel little song.
“After Hours” – Last month, The Weeknd shared “After Hours” as the third preview and first promo single for the new album. The song takes some time to settle in. Pinging percussion and crackling undertone add to a moody atmosphere. The Weeknd sings in his signature falsetto, extra reverb giving his vocals an other-worldly quality. He mournfully sings of a breakup, apologizing for breaking an ex’s heart and admitting that he wants her back. It starts slowly, but two minutes in a strong drumbeat infuses it with new energy. Then, the last minute of the song drops the extra elements, returning to a delicate and minimalist outro. The lyrics reference many other songs on the album – or is it the other way around? – making it a connective and worthy title track.
“Until I Bleed Out” – The closing track is also the shortest one on After Hours. “Until I Bleed Out” fades in, bleary and hazy like earlier songs on the album. Though it builds up halfway through, it remains a slow and dark outro. It promises no happy endings here, and is a fitting close to an often murky album. But it’s a repeating cycle, meaning it’s time to give After Hours another spin.
After Hours Score: 4/5
Highlights on After Hours include: “Alone Again,” “Hardest To Love,” “Scared To Live,” “Faith,” “Blinding Lights,” “In Your Eyes,” and “Save Your Tears.”
You can stream or buy After Hours at all the major music providers here.