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SEX & DRUGS & FUNK: REVIEWING THE MADNESS

Prepare for another baby boom. The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness (XO/Republic) is about to be the biggest bedroom soundtrack since the heyday of Barry White.

The set—which had three smash hits before today’s release—is pretty much wall-to-wall with late-night imagery of tangled bodies and intoxicants. We expect it to steam up the lives of couples and strangers alike for the foreseeable future. But its songs are also filled with haunting glimpses of dissociation and addiction, presumably the Madness of the title.

Not that getting fucked and getting fucked up are novel topics in contemporary music. But The Weeknd’s angelic miracle of a voice and the set’s invitingly minimalist arrangements (largely overseen by hit-making cyborg Max Martin) create their own twilit world of desire and compulsion. The influence of Abel Tesfaye’s muses (notably Michael Jackson, Prince and Sting) are everywhere, and at times the ‘80s obsession is heady enough to rival Taylor Swift’s. But the sensibility is dark as midnight; it’s simultaneously desolate and irresistible.

The Weeknd’s angelic miracle of a voice and the set’s invitingly minimalist arrangements (largely overseen by Max Martin) create their own twilit world of desire and compulsion.

You already know the seductive Fifty Shades smash “Earned It,” the groove monster “Can’t Feel My Face” and the electro-minimalist pull of “The Hills.” Let’s talk about the rest.

Kicking off with the moody “Real Life,” The Weeknd is joined by U.K. vocalist Labrinth for “Losers” with its Latin syncopations and swirling keys, imploring “What can you show me/That my heart don’t know already?” Then it’s on to a suite of lascivious, stoned soul tunes: the brazen “Tell Your Friends” (steeped in hip-hop braggadoccio), “Often,” “The Hills” (“when I’m fucked up that’s the real me”) and “Acquainted.” 

After the coked-out dance party of “Can’t Feel My Face” we segue to “In the Night,” which could be an outtake from Thriller, albeit with more explicit lyrical content; it’s a nocturnal earworm and another candidate for radio greatness. “As You Are” takes a romantic posture “even though I’ll break your heart.”

 The twisty, guitar-spiked “Dark Times” features some gutsy, soulful vocals from guest Ed Sheeran—and is another potential monster single—while Lana Del Rey is right at home in the wee-hours debauch that is “Prisoner.”  

The album closes on a more hopeful note: the sprawling “Angel,” with symphonic strings and eruptions of guitar, envisions a morning of emotional possibility beyond the album’s dark (though hot) night of the soul; extra points for guest singer Maty Noyes, another well-chosen guest. “You always seem to bring me light,” The Weeknd sings.

When Pop as edgy as this really connects, as Beauty does, watch out.

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