For fans only.
Expectation: The Weeknd is a Canadian R&B singer who gained significant attention in 2011 for his critically acclaimed trilogy of self-released mixtapes. While his popular following has grown with each album he has released, fan reactions have been mixed, as a vocal portion of fans complain that his songwriting caters too much to a pop audience.
- Starboy – Excellent beat that absolutely carries the song. The verses are nice, but the kind of thing you’ve heard a hundred times before, and the hook is just lazy.
- Party Monster – The autotuned sections work well with Abel’s voice, and the bass-heavy production ensures this will be a staple of parties for months to come. Also, the beginning of the second verse may be the best moment on the entire album; that delayed beat drop is too nice.
- False Alarm – An uncharacteristically high-energy track with a hook taken straight from the punk rock play book, seemingly made for teenagers to jump around fist pumping to it. Too bad it sounds awful on the recording.
- Reminder – Proving that everyone does Drake better than Drake, The Weeknd makes a smooth R&B / hip-hop crossover track that actually sounds great. The beat is clean and crisp, and the melody is memorable without being overbearing.
- Rockin’ – As straightforward as dance tracks get. Not bad, but not especially good, and practically a paint-by-numbers of songwriting.
- Secrets – I can’t help but feel there were some significant changes made to this track to make it more marketable. Traces of a much more interesting track are hidden in the instrumental: the lingering lamentation of a slide guitar, a bright, crisp acoustic guitar that sounds like something off of Blonde, and a classic rock influenced post-chorus all point to a slower, more soulful song that had a radio friendly kick-snare pattern and a bubbling synth bass line slapped on top of it. Who knows though, maybe I just like to imagine that there was a time when this track wasn’t as bland as the version we hear.
- True Colors – Any pop singer in the world could have written this song. Milquetoast through and through.
- Stargirl Interlude – Lana Del Ray sounds great and the instrumental is really nice. Wish it was a full song.
- Sidewalks – A more soulful track, featuring some interesting guitar loops and even some cool harmonies. Kendrick murders his verse, but that’s just expected.
- Six Feet Under – Filler.
- Love To Lay – Filler.
- A Lonely Night – Retro filler.
- Attention – Filler.
- Ordinary Life – You know when an artist writes a song for a movie soundtrack that vaguely fits the theme of the film and completely half-asses it? This sounds exactly like that.
- Nothing Without You – There is no way that anyone is actively listening by this point in the album. Just abysmally bland songwriting over the completely generic production. They even force in a random acoustic guitar that adds nothing to the song.
- All I Know – At last breaks out of the formula the prior tracks had settled into. A pretty decent track, though Future overstays his welcome a bit.
- Die For You – Its not great, but its not bad and its less generic than most of the middle section of the album.
- I Feel It Coming – A solid closer, courtesy of Daft Punk. The hints of funk in the guitar and bass make the track a breath of fresh air and the hook is among the most memorable on the album.
Overall: If you or a loved one claims House of Balloons is your favorite album, please seek immediate help. You are not going through this alone; this is not your fault. Pop music is a gold mine; can we really blame The Weeknd for following the money? In a personal sense, no; he has every right to pursue whatever he wants artistically and has no obligation to conform to what a subset of fans want from him. In a critical sense however, we absolutely can: this album is not good. It isn’t garbage, but its just not good. There are a few moments when a creative spark seems to ignite and the music has life in it, but the vast majority of the album is exactly the same formulaic back-up singles as any other pop artist. I believe this may be the most difficult pill to swallow for some long-term fans: Abel is a pop artist now. He is not the mysterious nobody from Canada self-releasing singles to Youtube; he is the frontman of a team of people whose livelihoods depend on these songs making the radio. This is almost unarguably the safest route, its just unfortunate that it has to be this way.
As for actual feedback, I will be brief: Abel has a great voice, the production is decent but often uneventful, the lyrics are mostly dull, and Abel seems to try 5 times harder anytime he has company.