The Weeknd explores life, death and the in-between in ‘Dawn FM’

Courtesy+of+The+Weeknd+official+Facebook+page

Courtesy of The Weeknd official Facebook page

By Caitlin Reardon, Collegian Staff

If dying had a soundtrack, I would imagine it to be filled with angels’ voices sweetly singing into my ears as I drift away into unadulterated bliss. The Weeknd, however, has a different idea in mind. In his fifth studio album released in January, The Weeknd’s “Dawn FM” encapsulates an 80s-charged project that eases your fears concerning death and the afterlife.

The record stretches listeners’ imaginations far and wide through its undeniably creative concept. “Dawn FM” quickly establishes itself as a radio station that plays in transition between physical life and the afterlife — a “purgatory,” as described by The Weeknd in an interview with Billboard.

Unexpectedly narrated by actor Jim Carrey, the two make a notable pair by balancing both reflective contemplation and the stereotypical 80s radio experience. Carrey appears in three out of sixteen tracks, hosting 103.5 Dawn FM in a fashion reflective of Vincent Price’s narration in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” minus the creepy ghouls.

Carrey is much more calming. Cushioned with synthesizers, Carrey’s static-y voice makes listeners process the destination they are about to reach while The Weeknd ponders the highs and lows of his time on earth.

It is clear The Weeknd uses his newly adopted 80s-pop sound, which pays off sometimes. Each track flows into the next, yet there is a difference between cohesiveness and redundancy. The first four songs are undifferentiated and stagnant, synonymous with a retro video game soundtrack. Lyrics merely scratch the surface, but things turn around for the better when “Sacrifice” unleashes its intensity through layered vocals and the pleading conflict between wanting to be with someone without sacrificing their own time.

“Out of Time” is a clean, smooth tune that pulls at our emotions as the listener finally understands the trauma they endured affected their romantic relationships — “I’ve been so cold to the ones who loved me, baby / I look back now and I realize.”

The Weeknd’s buttery voice sensitively hits falsetto, and the instrumentals are velvety and effortless while maintaining a steady groove. Combined into one, the song is utterly suave. Carrey concludes the song by telling listeners, “Soon you’ll be healed, forgiven and refreshed / free from all trauma, guilt and shame / you may even forget your own name.” Ominous but refined, Carrey is an exceptional addition, and the concept would not be convincing without.

“Here We Go… Again” featuring Tyler, The Creator subtly mirrors The Weeknd’s old sound. He intentionally slows it down to create a nostalgic picture of being in love while celebrating his own personal accomplishments. He cheekily mentions that he “still celebrates the Super Bowl,” alluding to the artist’s 2021 halftime performance. Tyler, The Creator’s verse is disappointing, though. Tyler’s feature did not add or subtract from the track but considering the pair’s potential, the verse fell flat and ultimately could have been excluded.

The album threads the seriousness of death with corny jingles to capture the essence that is radio. The Weeknd even narrates a cheesy commercial advertising the afterlife in “Every Angel is Terrifying.” The humor is striking — “Critics say ‘After Life’ makes your current life look like a total comatose snooze fest.” Even if unconvinced by the sound, one can appreciate the sheer bizarreness of this project. This small vignette within the daunting subject of death helps keep the atmosphere lighthearted.

While some lyrics are quite generic, other tracks get deep into reflection as the album progresses, getting closer and closer to the afterlife. It seems The Weeknd does this to illustrate how all-knowing a being is once they have a more universal angle. Through this record, the listener finds answers about their failed relationships, how they could have saved them and revealed true intentions. Love is the central theme here threading its way through.

The Weeknd’s daring project is undoubtedly an acquired taste. It is commendable that he attempted such a cool subject, but the execution slightly missed the mark. One can appreciate his interest in creating an 80s-influenced album, but it is hard to see where he grew as an artist from this. There are a few genuinely enjoyable songs, such as “Out of Time,” “Sacrifice,” “I Heard You’re Married” and “Here We Go… Again,” but the rest of purgatory feels like traveling through a laser tag game. Maybe some listeners love laser tag, and maybe some don’t. “Dawn FM” is absolutely worth a listen but lends itself to a sub-par delivery.

Caitlin Reardon can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @caitlinjreardon.