Midway through Abel Tesfaye’s fifth album as the Weeknd, the former blog-friendly miserabilist turned Super Bowl-starring megastar muses: “Catalogue lookin’ legendary”. It’s hard to disagree. His last album, 2020’s After Hours, spawned the record-breaking Blinding Lights, a glorious slice of electro-pop that joined Can’t Feel My Face and Starboy in the modern pop canon.
While Dawn FM doesn’t feature anything that screams global ubiquity – although disco-tinged lead single Take My Breath comes close – it also represents his most pleasingly cohesive album. Built around a retro radio station soundtracking purgatory, its featherlight, 80s-style pop – created alongside the likes of hitmaker Max Martin and electronic experimentalist Oneohtrix Point Never – is juxtaposed with lyrics that toy with annihilation. On eerie opener Gasoline, Tesfaye asks a lover to literally set him on fire, while songs such as Sacrifice and the shimmering Less Than Zero wrestle with past misdeeds and the sense that emotional destruction is all he knows.
Musically, Dawn FM mirrors Tesfaye’s disquiet, its buffed electronic sheen ruptured by moments of discord, as when ballad Starry Eyes teeters on the brink of implosion. It’s a state that Tesfaye seems to relish, with often stunning results.