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The Weeknd’s force of three

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The first words to bust out of the debut album of R&B artist Abel Tesfaye, known as The Weeknd, are “you don’t know what’s in store/But you know what you’re here for.” As a pair, no two lines could be more fitting as an introduction to The Weeknd’s album “Trilogy.”

This isn’t the only time The Weeknd has opened an album with the song “High for This.” The song was also featured as the first song on Tesfaye’s debut mixtape, “House of Balloons.”

The Weeknd remains somewhat of an enigma. In truth, most R&B fans either didn’t have The Weeknd on their radar even after the mixtape’s release, or they were not sure what to expect in a full-length album from the Toronto-based artist. Before the album, The Weeknd’s works seemed to grow progressively darker in its themes.

“House of Balloons” gave fans glimpses into hazy, drug-filled scenes that may have seemed dark at the time. However, The Weeknd’s subsequent releases, “Thursday” and “Echoes of Silence,” grew darker thematically in comparison. As the three projects drew praise from critics and fans, The Weeknd’s fan base expanded and began to wonder about the man behind the music.

There might not be too many clues as to who Tesfaye really is in this album. However, the choice to use “High for This” as a debut song has an explanation.

“Trilogy,” is not a project full of new songs, but The Weeknd has put out the next best thing. The album is a three-disc remastered set of The Weeknd’s mixtapes in their entirety, and each disc concludes with a brand new song.

Off the first mixtape, songs like “High for This” and “House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls” put Tesfaye’s affinity for illicit substances and women on display. The songs’ scenes are full of pill-popping, cocaine-blowing and marijuana-smoking characters drifting about the singer’s downtown loft.

Unlike many other new R&B artists, The Weeknd’s songs are heavy and hypnotic. Like many of today’s up-and-coming rappers, his music references a preference for the drug codeine. This stated preference is complemented by the hazy feel given off by the songs and goes a long way in bringing such lyrically descriptive scenes to life.

One of the important distinctions to be made here is that the lyrical drug use isn’t merely recreational. His lyrics describe the drug use as being out of necessity. The Weeknd sings about drugs and sex like they’re just two things he enjoys doing, but seems to show through his music that he needs both to numb an underlying pain and vulnerability.

A perfect example of this possible juxtaposition lies within the track “Wicked Games,” which finds The Weeknd singing about needing a partner’s love to balance out his pain and shame. Lines like, “I need confidence in myself” and “so tell me you love me,” appear to be the laments of a person who has been hurt romantically in the past.

“House of Balloons” isn’t all darkness and despair. The Weeknd balances the first part of “Trilogy” with a few lighter songs. Two of them, “Loft Music” and “The Morning,” are highlights of the entire set.

“Loft Music” finds The Weeknd singing about seducing a potential lover by showing the girl a good time and comparing himself to other suitors. The Beach House-sampled instrumental is one of the most lighthearted of the bunch, and the first half of the song makes up for the unnecessary, three-minute outro attached to the end.

Then there’s “The Morning,” which was arguably one of the best songs released in all of 2011. The track is essentially an ode to drugs and strippers – two subjects that The Weeknd’s music implies he is well-versed in. “The Morning” is one of the most sonically pleasing tracks that Tesfaye has released to date and is a perfect showcase of both his ear for instrumentation and his vocal ability.

Disc two of the set contains “Thursday,” the second mixtape released by The Weeknd. “Thursday” may not be a sophomore slump, but it is the weakest of the three projects by far.

One of the highlights on disc two is “The Zone,” the Drake-assisted track that served as their first and only collaboration until the release of Drake’s latest album, “Take Care,” released in 2011. The song has an airy, atmospheric beat that complement’s The Weeknd’s voice, but the real payoff comes with the arrival of Drake. His flow over the sparse instrumental seems almost effortless and his short verse has its fair share of quotable lines.

Following “The Zone” is “The Birds Pt. 1,” the pinnacle of the second disc. Tesfaye is no stranger to affairs of the heart, and on “The Birds Pt. 1” he warns an unspecified woman of the dangers of falling in love with him. Knowing he’ll hurt her, he likens himself to a bird because of his life free of constraints. This is The Weeknd at his most compassionate, and the song shows a marked change in demeanor between the first and second disc.

The second disc concludes with “Valerie,” which is easily the best of the three new songs. Divulging into the world of relationships, the song tells the story of an unfaithful man and his girlfriend. The story goes that his girlfriend is aware of his infidelity, but she won’t end the relationship because she would rather live with the current situation than face living alone.

The Weeknd begins disc three with “D.D.,” a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana.” Covering a star as acclaimed as Jackson can be a very big gamble, but the risk here pays off. The Weeknd delivers one of his best performances on the entire collection with this cover. At one point, the singer reaches a note that seems to be impossibly high. That note alone makes his vocal talents undeniable.

Another high point comes in the form of “Initiation,” a drugged-induced track about a sexual encounter that seems to come from the darkest depths of The Weeknd. “Initiation” shows the emotional range that exists within Tesfaye. The character in the song seems almost too evil to be coming from the same guy who just covered a Michael Jackson song.

While it may not be what fans were hoping for, “Trilogy” is a must-have for any fan of The Weeknd. The collection costs as much as a regular 10-song release, but what you are getting here is a 30-song project that spans almost three hours. The remastered mixtape songs sound better than they ever have, and purchasing “Trilogy” should be an easy choice for anyone who has ever enjoyed The Weeknd’s work.

Aidan Cusack can be reached at acusack@student.umass.edu.

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