The meaning behind The Weeknd's 'After Hours', Tame Impala, Pearl Jam, Oasis and more | Music Blog 2
Updated: May 8, 2020
In this post I investigate what (and who) The Weeknd’s dark new album ‘After Hours’ is about, explore the meaning behind Tame Impala’s ‘The Slow Rush’, and review releases by Pearl Jam, Circa Waves and Grimes. Also, with a 'new' Oasis song, is a reunion on the cards?
One plus side to the current COVID-19 lockdown is being able to stay indoor and listen to some new music. In my last post, I committed to listening to (and reviewing) 50 new albums from the world of hip-hop, indie, pop, rock and dance. Today I delve a little deeper and explore the meaning behind both The Weeknd and Tame Impala's new albums, as well as reviewing three others.
Who and what is the Weeknd’s new album all about?
Info: 'After Hours' by The Weeknd. Released 20th March by XO and Republic Records
‘After Hours’ is the fourth studio album by Canadian singer Abel Tesfaye, an artist better known as The Weeknd. Following the success of his hit single Blinding Lights, the record dropped last month to universal critical acclaim.
An album already blinded by the lights
Before the album’s release, Blinding Lights had taken a life of its own. With its 80s synth-pop hooks and catchy chorus, it's been the most popular track of the year. It even spent eight weeks in the UK Official Chart (only to be kicked off last week by Captain Tom Moore...). Several months after first being released, it’s had 832 million plays on Spotify and counting. It'll probably reach a billion by next week.
Before any high profile album release there’s expensive music videos and a marketing campaign to sell, not just the music but, the artist themselves. More than ever before, The Weeknd has embraced this and it’s as much a visual project as an audio one.
The Weeknd has adopted a dark persona and vintage style, playing the part of an 80s cinematic villain. It's Joker meets Robert De Niro in Casino, with a little Michael Jackson style thrown in for good measure. In his live performances and music videos he has the bloody face, Freddie Mercury moustache, red jacket suit and expression of derangement. And the over dramatics fit the new music and story.
So, how does it sound?
For the most part, the album features a heavy dose of nostalgia, combining 80s pop, synth wave and the alternative r&b he’s known for.
The 80s sound is a large part of the album’s charm and it’s tapped into hard here. There’s just something about that time which resonates with people. It’s fun, carefree and many of tracks here aspire to be exactly that. The others strive for something darker.
What are the songs about?
Scratch a little below the surface and there’s a story unravelling across the album. The Weeknd paints a picture of himself as a self-loathing and contradictory character, corrupted by the ‘blinding lights’ of success and fame. He lives an empty hedonistic lifestyle consumed by sex and drugs, yet he’s conflicted by the mistakes of a previous toxic relationship. This is not just any relationship though. The songs are about supermodel Bella Hadid (they dated on and off for four years) and his struggle to accept it’s finality.
Album opener ‘Alone Again’, is an intense beginning to his story. He confess, ’take off my disguise, I’m living someone else’s life, suppressing who I was inside’. Loneliness and fame have turned him into someone he doesn’t recognise. Throughout the album, this becomes a constant theme for him. On the second track ‘Too Late’ he concedes that he’s ‘in Hell, it’s disguised as a paradise with flashing lights’. The addictive LA/Vegas lifestyle has tortured his soul, sucking him into a corrupted life he can’t escape.
The Weeknd gets all emotional on Hardest to Love, regretting his behaviour towards his ex (Bella Hadid). He recalls how, despite his lack of commitment, she came back and forgave him, something he feels he didn’t deserve. On In Your Eyes, a vulnerable Abel sings about the relationship turning sour from both perspectives. It’s only by looking through his lovers’ eyes that he notices the pain he’s been causing her. With its synth beats and catchy lyrics, there’s an MJ vibe and it ends with a classic 80s saxophone solo.
On Save Your Tears he regrets breaking Bellas heart and how she deserves someone better. He recalls a night out shortly after they'd broken up, ‘I saw you dancing in a crowded room, you look so happy when I’m not with you, but then you saw me, caught you by surprise, a single teardrop running down your eye’. The song refers to a night out at an LA club in 2019 where Abel’s appearance leads to a distraught Bella leaving in tears. Thanks to TMZ for hitting me up with the backstory on that one.
Heartless is the biggest club banger on the album and is produced by Metro Boomin, the trap producer famous for working with Post Malone, James Blake and Future. He opens with the line, ‘never need a bitch, I’m what a bitch needs’, embracing the player lifestyle and contradicting the sentimentality he shows elsewhere. Later in the song, Abel sings ‘I’m trying to be a better man but I’m heartless, never be a wedding plan for the heartless.’ With all the fame and success he’s insensitive to others and can't go back to a normal life. For seven years (since moving to LA) he’s ‘been swimmin’ with the sharks now’.
The music video for the song is a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas inspired bender at a Sin City casino. By the end of the video, Abel runs down the iconic Las Vegas Fremont Street to be sick. Earlier in the song he'd declared, 'I've been dodging death in the six-speed, Amphetamine got my stummy feeling sickly' and it's all catching up to him now. The following track ‘Faith’ takes an entirely different turn. He’s bingeing on drugs but this time his ‘heartless’ feelings have gone. He’s depressed, wanting to overdose so his ex (Bella) can come and be by his hospital bedside.
The best song on the album is easily the penultimate track on the album, the dark and depressive After Hours. In the first verse, Abel’s mistakes have caused him unbearable pain and misery. Only reconciling with Bella will heal him. As the production gets darker and the beat kicks in, he recalls his ‘darkest hours’ and ‘turning into the man I used to be’. This 'man' is the cheating womaniser he describes in Heartless, a man intent on living out his fantasies no matter the cost, even to this relationship. He pleads in the final few lines for her to take him back and how things will be different this time.
Until I Bleed Out is the climactic track to the album. Despite the more understated tone in sound, it's no less dramatic. In the intro Abel finds himself ‘paralysed’ in the midst of an overdose. He’s addressing two parts of his life, his addiction to drugs and the doomed desire to get back with Bella. Only bleeding out will kill the toxic parts of his life away. We’ll just need to see on the next record if it's worked...
It’s an emotional ride throughout, sounding dark, smooth, and full of great 80s inspired r&b hooks. The most enjoyable and consistent album The Weeknd has done yet.
Exploring 'The Slow Rush' by Tame Impala
Info: 'The Slow Rush' by Tame Impala. Released 14th February by Interscope
The Slow Rush is the fourth album by Tame Impala, a music project by Australian singer, songwriter and producer Kevin Parker. Over the past decade, Kevin Parker’s Tame Impala has released four critically acclaimed albums, changing style and theme from album to album. With origins in the Perth indie scene, Parker now finds himself a part of the LA mainstream, all done without ever compromising his integrity or creativity. Quite the progression for an introverted stoner from 'Down Under'.
Both 2010 debut Innerspeaker and 2012 follow up Lonerism are 60s inspired psych-rock records which reached instant cult classic status. Currents was released three years later featuring a more polished and confident electronic and R&B sound. It swept up so much praise at the time and pushed his popularity to a level he wasn’t prepared for. So popular even Rihanna began covering tracks from it on her 2016 ‘Anti’ album.
Years passed and it was all quiet on the Tame Impala front. Instead, Kevin Parker was busy collaborating with artists such as The Weeknd, Kanye West and Travis Scott. There was also the small matter of getting married. But where was the new album? Settling down and now a successful producer, fans were fearing the album would never come.
That was until Spring 2019 of course. In the lead up to his Coachella headline set, Tame Impala released a couple of teaser tracks, the aptly named Patience, and Borderline. A summer release was on the cards. Or so everyone thought, it was soon radio-silence again. What had gone wrong? Behind the scenes Parker was obsessively producing the album in his LA studio, missing deadline after deadline in the strive for perfection.
Finally, in February 2020, The Slow Rush dropped and the five-year wait was over. The album continued where Currents left off, with a smooth psychedelic sound inspired by R&B, house and disco. Gone are the guitars (for the most part), in (again) are the synths, keyboards and funky bass-lines, with more emphasis on groove, drums and rhythms. Each song features layers of sound, detailed composition, all performed, mixed and produced by Kevin Parker. Not a helping hand in sight.
What’s the album about then?
The album is essentially all about time. It’s the consistent theme running through the album, be it about the past, present or future and challenging doubts you might have about them.
The hypnotic opening track One More Year is all about being stuck in a rut and worrying time is passing you by. In a line strikingly familiar to many working adults, he sings about being on ‘rollercoaster, stuck on its loop-de-loop, ‘cause what we did, one day on a whim, has slowly become, all we do’. What seems an exciting move at the time, can suddenly become the dreaded new normal. He offers a solution. Why not just say you'll only do this for one more year and then move on? The fix is gradually working towards your goal over that.
On Instant Destiny, Parker sings about the craziness of settling down (he married his girlfriend Sophie Lawrence last year) and making plans that will last a lifetime. The future terrifies him, he just wants to just live in the here and now. Later in the album, on Is It True, he reveals his fear of waking up with a change of heart towards his wife. He loves her at the moment but will it last? On the last line of the song he's still undecided, ‘we’ll see, we’ll see, we’ll see…’.
A rare guitar riff is heard on Posthumous Forgiveness, a song about Kevin Parker’s dead father. He begins by berating the actions of his selfish father, who left his mother and abandoned young Kevin when he was just a child. He’s angry that his father never made an effort to apologise and reconnect with him when got older. He decided ’to take all his sorrys to the grave’. The song then stops two-thirds in and restarts with a more melancholic vibe. On reflection, he tries to understand his fathers actions and forgive him. He wishes his dad was there for him now so he could see what has become of his son. Singing to his father he sings, ‘I wanna tell you ‘bout the time, wanna tell you ‘bout my life’, wanna play you all my songs, and hear your voice sing along’. Time, as they say, is a healer.
It Might Be Time is a reality check. Kevin Parker questions his own relevance as a performer now he’s in his 30s. He declares that ’it might be time to face it, you ain’t as fun as used to be, you won’t recover, you ain’t as cool as you used to be’. He’s revealing his own paranoid thoughts about growing old and comparing himself to others who are moving on. Later on he comes to realise that ‘you may as well embrace it’ and accepts the situation. Live life by your standards, not others.
The uptempo Lost in Yesterday, has a lot of groove and is carried by a funky bass-line. In the chorus, Parker tackles nostalgia and asks, ’does it help to get lost in yesterday?’. You can’t change what’s happened in the past so why dwell on the bad memories? Instead, you should embrace these experiences as they make you who you are. He concludes that ‘eventually, terrible memories turn into great ones’.
Parker is inspired by Meatloaf on On Track, a song which starts off as a slow piano-led ballad before a build-up of synths and drums. It’s about getting over past setbacks and persevering with your life goals.
The album was produced in Los Angeles and it has a dreamy Californian vibe, bringing the layers of beats, bass, guitars, and keyboards together in a way only Kevin Parker can. It delivers a positive message about not dwelling on the past and encouraging the listener to not allow time to pass them by. Asked in an interview by Zane Lowe how he felt after making this album he replied, ‘I’m drained…everything I am right now is in this album, (I have) put it out to the world and people will hopefully like it.’
And liked it they have. Understatement.
Does a 'new' Oasis song signal a reunion?
In the early hours of Thursday 30th April, Noel Gallagher put out Don't Stop, a 15-year-old Oasis demo recorded in Hong Kong. He'd come across it in a big clear out and soon published it onto the Oasis YouTube channel.
The verdict? It's a melancholic number featuring Noel on acoustic guitar and vocals and is in a similar note to Masterplan B Sides Talk Tonight and Half The World Away. It fits 2020's mood to a Tee and is among the best songs they've released this Millenium.
Liam tweeted his displeasure at its release due to the lack of his presence, but could this be the first (small) step to a reunion? We'll just need to wait and see...
New albums by Pearl Jam, Grimes and Circa Waves
Gigaton by Pearl Jam. Released 27 March by Republic Records
This is the 30th year anniversary of the Seattle rock band Pearl Jam, who were big players in the Grunge scene back in the early 90s. What a fitting way to celebrate than with their 11th studio album.
Over the course of the 12 tracks, the band still prove they can write quality rock songs and still be creative. The highlight, as ever, is the great rock vocals by Eddie Vedder who steals the show time and again.
Superblood Wolfmoon is a catchy garage-rock song that sounds fresh today whilst tracks like Who Ever Said, Quick Escape and Take the Long Way are catchy rock songs that sound like Pearl Jam of old. Other highlights include Dance of the Clairvoyants, with it’s funky bassline and synths, and the epic Retrogade.
Miss Anthropocene by Grimes. Released 21st February by 4AD
Grimes is best known these days as being the girlfriend of tech billionaire Elon Musk but over the last decade she’s built up a career as a creative singer and producer. Earlier in the year Grimes released her fifth album and it’s one where she’s still able to show her creative side, with a range of different styles represented.
Take the 6 minute opener, So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth. It’s a slow ballad with a simple drum pattern, sounding atmospheric and almost otherworldly. This is followed by Darkseid, which again has a dark fantasy sound and features intense rapping by Taiwanese artist 潘PAN. This Asian influence is also felt of the track 4ÆM, mixing Indian inspired vocals with drum n bass. Meanwhile, Forever Delete uses country music and banjos as the backdrop for a song about addiction.
The best track on the album is actually a bonus track, We Appreciate Power. With it’s big beats and metal influences she’s working through another genre. Violence is another highlight, it’s a club banger with Deadmau5 inspired production.
Grimes can take a variety of different genres and still come out with a unique sound, even if the second half can sound bland in parts.
Sad Happy by Circa Waves. Released 13th March by Prolifica
The Liverpudlian indie rockers released their new album ‘Sad Happy’ in March and it's a double album of 14 tracks divided by two emotions, happy and sad. Interesting idea but it’s 2020, is a double album really a great idea?
The two albums are glued together by the lead single Sad Happy, easily the most radio-friendly on the album and first track on the second half. ‘You know me, I’m sad happy, dancing with my eyes wide shut’ sings frontman Kerman Shudall, torn between the two emotions.
The second half is a lot more thoughtful and sad. The highlight is the mournful Hope There’s a Heaven. With its big chorus, organ and electro sounds, it brings a welcome change to the guitars. It starts ‘Why d’ya have to go, I swear the best is yet to come, Why d’ya have to go, the doctors gave you weeks’ or months’. Different pace from the happier first half but one of the tracks that massively grows on you.
Battered & Bruised sounds upbeat with its funky baseline and catchy lyrics, but it’s a song all about heartache and sadness. It sums up this side of the album well. ‘I'm feeling broke, I'm feeling I've been used. I’m feeling down, I'm feeling quite confused’.
Bold idea but they deliver on this one.
And that's it for this blog post. Massive kudos if you've made it this far!
Plenty of new releases this month to get through, The Strokes, Childish Gambino and Drake, I'll hopefully get a new post out soon.
Thanks for reading.