Let me be clear, right from the off, that I haven’t decided about this record yet. It’s a toss-up between two ideas; firstly that it’s quite possibly one of the best disguised pieces of musical satire of recent years, or that it could be the case that the drug-induced, hyper-sexualised ‘construct’ of Kiss Land is a desperate cover up for what is Abel’s lonely, hollow existence. The reason I’m swaying somewhat toward the latter for now, is that despite the mesmerising shimmer of Trilogy, it’s difficult to see any real progression in what has been released post-first mixtape House of Balloons. House of Balloons which, if it needs any reiteration, was an all-encompassing and devastatingly listenable portrayal of the garish contemporary hip hop culture.
In a way, it’s almost as if Abel (/The Weeknd) has started to become the embodiment of his own creations. On ‘Love In The Sky’, he professes that “I’m always getting high, cause my confidence’s low/Always in a rush; got no time to fuck slow”, but after the initial brazen bravado, it’s the confidence confession you ruminate on, and you get to wondering where exactly he rushing to. It’s been three years since House of Balloons championed the party and the after party, but it seems the profundity of that lifestyle might have been overstated; there’s been no transformation as a result of the broken glasses and broken hearts, instead Abel’s just caught in a self-destructive labyrinth of his own decadent, misanthropic design.
And yet that hellish world is something that Kiss Land symbolises almost all too perfectly. On the album opener ‘Professional’, Abel teases that “You made enough to quit a couple years ago/But it consumes you.” And that’s just one of the notes of self-awareness that could propel Kiss Land from being nothing more than sanctimonious nightmusic, to something a lot more deserving. Indeed, regardless of what they were meant to represent, the horror flick cliché screams at the start of the title track establish the album’s haunting themes impeccably farcically. And there are these kinds of contradictions all the way through the record.
Slipped in between the habitual tales of glamour, Abel’s lyrics confess that he “Can’t stand talking to brand new girls”, “Don’t know how to drive” and “Don’t have any friends” – it’s not a statement of pride, it’s a warning to all those below him clasping at the airy wisps of fame. On ‘Live For’ the hook “This’s the shit that I live for/with the people I’d die for” is another lyric that sounds arrogant and aggrandising to begin with, but after the twentieth repetition, you get the feeling it’s more of a reminder than a statement.
Despite being the sole featuring artist on Kiss Land, Drake’s contribution on ‘Live For’ adds remarkably little, his verse not quite grasping the album’s content as fully as you’d hope. Perhaps the rumours about the pair’s growing detente have some truth. Perhaps Abel really doesn’t have any friends. As he says on ‘Adaptation’, ‘I chose the life/I made a trade’. Three years riding the crest of fame has carried him “From staring at the same four walls for 21 years/ To seeing the whole world in just twelve months”, but rather than eliciting some great change, Abel’s jet-setting has left him invariably returning to the same old conceits, the glib replies, the same defeats.
All this is not to say that Kiss Land makes entirely uncomfortable listening, especially for those already well-versed in The Weeknd’s aesthetic. There are stripped back atmospherics, lots of reverb, bold beats, shutter-sound samples, faux-poignant French monologues, and glitchy hazes. It sounds fresh, but familiar. In fact, even despite ditching his two previous producers Doc MicKinney and Illangelo, the production and instrumentation follow on almost eerily similarly from the material on Trilogy. And whilst majestic at times, like the use of a Portishead sample on ‘Belong To The World’, much like the lyrics he writes, Abel’s style is getting to a point of being so oft-repeated that it’ll slide, blissfully, into eventual indifference.
Abel claims that Kiss Land is an album based on his worst fears, and that it represents a world that is a product of his own imagination; one that he’s unfamiliar with, but terrified of. But surely, to write so convincingly for so many years, a self-fulfilling prophecy can’t be too far from the truth? It’s either an almost perfect deconstruction of what it to be famous, or the rather sad evidence of yet another talent consumed by celebrity, and I’m just not sure which.