THE WEEKND: Dawn FM (XO)
Verdict: Timely tonic
ELVIS COSTELLO & THE IM POSTERS: The Boy Named If (EMI )
Verdict: Fast and furious
We are only two weeks into 2022, but the year’s first major album is already heading for the top of the charts.
Dawn FM is the fifth LP from Canadian singer Abel Tesfaye — aka The Weeknd — and its superb mix of electronic dance and 1980s-inspired pop is just the tonic to blow away any January cobwebs.
The Toronto musician’s previous release, 2020’s After Hours, which contained hit singles Blinding Lights and Save Your Tears, enhanced his trademark R&B with catchy synth hooks. Dawn FM has its share of dark, bittersweet moments, but the shift to a more upbeat gear is even more pronounced.
We are only two weeks into 2022, but the year’s first major album is already heading for the top of the charts
Tesfaye (whose stage name is pronounced ‘the weekend’) describes his new record as a ‘sonic experience’ — a concept LP about a journey towards the light at the end of the tunnel.
If After Hours chronicled a life of hedonism, loveless sex and hollow celebrity, this sequel confronts his demons from the other side.
Track of the week
GIVIN’ IT UP by PEARL CHARLES
Ahead of five UK dates next month, California singer-songwriter Charles is in fine form on Givin’ It Up. Singing of romance, she performs beautifully on a feel-good, country-soul number augmented by electric piano and strings.
That could mean he’s turned over a new leaf. It could suggest some sort of afterlife. Given its timing, it could even apply to the voyage out of lockdown.
The album is framed as a radio show, 103.5 Dawn FM, with Tesfaye’s Ontario neighbour (and friend) Jim Carrey as DJ and narrator. The artwork depicts the 31-year-old singer as an older, grey-bearded man, and the implication seems to be that his epic journey, wherever it took him, has left its scars.
He brings some impressive guests along for the ride, though. As well as Carrey, he’s joined by Max Martin (the producer behind many of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry’s biggest songs) and electronic composer Daniel Lopatin. There are cameos, too, from Quincy Jones, Calvin Harris… and, most surprisingly, Beach Boy Bruce Johnston.
The retro influences are to the fore from the off. After a spoken prologue from Carrey — ‘You’ve been in the dark for way too long, it’s time to walk into the light’ — we sail into some shimmering floor fillers.
Gasoline could be Depeche Mode, with a further nod to the past in a line about ‘dozing off to R.E.M.’ after a night of excess. Dance act Swedish House Mafia guest on How Do I Make You Love Me?, while Take My Breath is sung in a Michael Jackson-like falsetto.
A spoken-word interlude, A Tale By Quincy, finds the producer of Jackson’s Thriller and Off The Wall albums telling of his own difficult childhood. Momentum dips slightly as Dawn FM progresses, with its second half billed (by Carrey) as ‘30 minutes of easy listening to some slow tracks’.
Johnston adds vocal harmonies and keyboards on the ballad Here We Go… Again, and there are echoes of Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy soundtrack on the cinematic Every Angel Is Terrifying, an account of a fictional movie called After Life.
Tesfaye also plays the lovelorn romantic. ‘I changed my ways for the better,’ he sings on Is There Someone Else? Another ballad, Best Friends, sees him address the challenge of staying on good terms with an ex-lover. ‘Don’t try to take it further, focus on the friendship,’ is his tip.
The album is framed as a radio show, 103.5 Dawn FM, with Tesfaye’s Ontario neighbour (and friend) Jim Carrey as DJ and narrator
The songs are laced with lyrical as well as musical nods to the 1980s, and there are references to Prince’s When Doves Cry and Purple Rain.
There’s also, as Carrey brings the curtain down, a sense of resolution. ‘Dance ’til you find that divine boogaloo,’ advises the actor, ending Dawn FM on an optimistic note.
Elvis Costello addresses growing pains of his own on The Boy Named If, harking back to the sound of his earliest albums, such as 1978’s This Year’s Model, on a set of punchy, melodic tunes driven by his raucous guitar playing and the drumming of Pete Thomas, who thwacks away on the same kit he used in the late 1970s.
The 13 new songs here, according to Costello, ‘take us from the last days of a bewildered boyhood to that mortifying moment when you are told to stop acting like a child — which for most men (and perhaps a few gals too) can be any time in the next 50 years’.
Even for a singer regarded as one of Britain’s most accomplished, this is clearly no trivial matter. It’s often hard to grasp what Elvis, 67, is singing about. On the wordy Trick Out The Truth, he mentions Lady Godiva, Godzilla and ‘playing cards with Gustav Mahler’.
Mistook Me For A Friend finds him with ‘a pocket full of Presidents, a suitcase full of elements, the double-cross of spectacles, a mogul for mechanicals’. Some tracks are easier to fathom. Penelope Halfpenny examines the dreams of an old teacher. My Most Beautiful Mistake concerns a jaded Hollywood screenwriter and a waitress dreaming of stardom.
Musically, the latter revisits the country-rock of Costello’s first album, My Aim Is True. Lyrically, it contains references to Smokey Robinson’s Motown standard The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game. The music is rousing. Farewell, OK sounds like The Beatles playing the Kaiser-keller in Hamburg. Steve Nieve’s organ on Magnificent Hurt is a throwback to 1978’s Pump It Up.
Too knowing to wallow in nostalgia for salad days, Costello looks back with an archly raised eyebrow.
Elvis starts a UK tour in Brighton on June 5 (axs.com).