After Hours: The Autumn Album
“You can find love, fear, friends, enemies, violence, dancing, sex, demons angels, loneliness, and togetherness all in the After Hours of the night”
With ephemeral, wobbling synths, mystical melodies, and the dry cries of a detached lover, The Weeknd welcomes us to his latest project. We are wafted into a dream-like world of his own creation, with darkness, conflict, and intrigue abound.
“After Hours” perfects the sound that is frequently in conflict with itself, much like the artist. A new more promising chapter for the 30-year-old, his efforts amount to one of the best overall albums in the Weeknd’s — usually wanting — catalog.
Not your average breakup album. The Weeknd croons about passion, pain, and overindulgence, all over chart-topping beats straight from the 80s. With a touch of horror, retro longing, and something about Vegas, it’s an exhilarating ride through the breakup of a superstar determined to escape the reality of heartbreak.
And it makes for a hell of an album to vibe to in the Fall.
The most intriguing part of the project is everything going on outside of the music. From the pop culture threads to the real world pop-ups, marketing for the album captured the imagination. But capitalism aside, there is real substance behind the world being crafted inside and outside the project, and the man in the red jacket is at the center.
The Weeknd does a deep dive into the making of the album in a sitdown for Variety, in which he describes the series of music video releases as one story unfolding about a character who is “having a really bad night.”
Each video adds a new twist to the story of a night in Vegas gone wrong.
The slow rush begins with Heartless, Blinding Lights, the After Hours short film, Until I Bleed Out, In your Eyes, and most recently, Too Late. All together our man in the red jacket has the time of his life, gets a bloody nose, does Jimmy Kimmel, and ends as an entrancing severed head. It’s truly worth the half-hour or so viewing.
The horror film aesthetic is called upon to help the narrative along. The disorienting camera, unexplained supernatural forces, creepy Shining hallways, and a generally unsettled feeling throughout. In Your Eyes evokes a darker more diabolical take on Thriller.
Interestingly, The Weekend focuses on the comedy aspects of the story, sighting the 1985 Martin Scorsese film, “After Hours” as the main inspiration for the concept.
The overarching message remains something of a mystery, and may very well still be unfolding. Abel himself gets shy about saying too much about his interpretation, noting, “you can come with [your] own interpretation of what it is.”
From what I can tell, the seemingly never-ending night of indulgence in Vegas belies the true darkness that exists within our After Hours protagonist— and potentially within us all.
Within the album, we find The Weeknd in familiar territory. Singing of loss, over Billboard worthy beats, and overindulging in the nightlife to escape the overwhelming sense of loneliness.
This time around, we get a full-length project that keeps the intensity the whole way through. The message is direct and more mature than many past tapes. Much more than a breakup album, it is a Fall album throughout. And we are taken on an exhilarating ride through self-destruction and resurrection.
The first track, Alone Again, like the immediate aftermath of a breakup. He questions the ability to be alone again. Faith, we get the depths of despair, and he emphasizes, “I feel everything.” Comparing coming down from the drugs to the unbearable sensation of losing his heart, literally stated on After Hours “my heart belongs to you.”
In the same interview for Variety he explains the motivation behind Faith:
…I wanted to go to Vegas and be this guy again, the “Heartless” guy, the drug monster, the person who hates God and is losing his f — ing religion and hating what he looks like when he looks in the mirror so he keeps getting high, and hating to be sober because “I feel the most lonely when I’m coming down” — that’s who this song is.
Although, we get a change of heart on Hardest to Love, a revelation that “What we had is dead inside/ You’re acting like it’s still alive” sees the truth of the relationship.
The Weeknd paints himself as a flawed partner who should have been better but is doing the noble thing in putting the dying relationship out of its misery.
As the songs unfold we see just how right The Weeknd was to detach from the lethally leaning union. Death seems inevitable.
Hedonism reigns throughout, stitched into the background, and fearless in the presentation, and lurking in the melody. Most notable in Heartless and Blinding Lights where the loneliness seems to fade just long enough to dance your heart out.
Only for sorrow to catch back up and rear its head in the very same song, as if to suddenly recall, “I lost my heart and my mind.”
As expected The Weeknd seeks comfort in old habits, proclaiming, “Never comin’ down/ I was running away from facin’ reality” in the face of his longing for his “baby boo.” His tendencies for escapism and self-harm are familiar as ever, yet this time around they are communicated much more powerfully through the whole album.
“Take me back cause I wanna stay”
Love was his drug, and thus we hear moments of relapse scattered in. Despite the toxic relationship he knows he was right to leave, he can’t help but long for what he once had.
But he eventually comes to the conclusion, “I wanna cut you out of my dreams” on Until I Bleed. In the end — literally the last track — he finds acceptance, saying “I can’t make you stay in this broken place/ and I hope you find peace” on Final Lullaby. The character arc is completed, and our flawed man in the red jacket finds redemption.
On the final track, both the listener and The Weeknd’s lost love can finally “Close your eyes as I put us to sleep,” as we are given the confidence that redemption exists for us all, even the most flawed.
Indeed, we find “demons angels, loneliness, and togetherness,” and even more in “After Hours.” Despite the purposefully open-ended nature, the album reflects the artistic maturity of The Weeknd in its conciseness. Not a second is wasted, and the intensity remains steady, while still able to explore a full spectrum of emotion.
What presents as death and decline, in the beginning, is contrasted with the glimmer of rebirth and hope. The perfect autumn vibes.
All too appropriate for the King of the Fall.