By the time Echoes of Silence was released, the closing chapter coming a mere nine months after the first, anyone still willing to sink into Abel Tesfaye’s world of casual cruelty and suffocating self pity did so laden with reservations. The lustre of House of Balloons had dulled, excess partying—or rather excess tales of excess partying—had taken its toll. The Weeknd’s narratives of drugged debauchery, unrelenting Tuesday Blues and unhappy sexual congress, accompanied by increasingly abrasive, meandering production ballast, made listening to some parts of Thursday a chore. His character was so definitively unpleasant, the crown prince of predatory dickwads, as to seem inhuman… When he suddenly crumpled into a crywanking manchild on “Rolling Stone” pity wasn’t particularly effusive: “Baby, I got you / Until you’re used to my face / and my mystery fades.” Say what? Getouttahere. And take your shit coke with you, mate.
Echoes of Silence doesn’t quite master the flaws of Thursday but instead makes a feature of them. At the very top of the record is a ridiculously ostentatious cover of Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana”, allowing us pause; respite from all those unsatisfactory blowjobs given through bruxic jaws. It’s with a masterful sense of dramatic pacing that Echoes of Silence then plumbs the depths of chemically heightened amorality, and we, falsely reassured, follow him all the way down. “XO/The Host” is laced with processed strains of classical music that sound spookily apposite to Walter Carlos’ synthesised version of Henry Purcell’s “Funeral For Queen Mary”—used memorably as a theme for A Clockwork Orange. A tale of a discarded beau whom Tesfaye coldly mocks for, unsurprisingly, cultivating a gargantuan drug habit and risking the reproach of her parents. “Hear your mom crying / Cos she found your bag stuffed in the laundry / And the Bacardi from the last party/ If they won’t let you in you know where to find me,” coos the ol’ charmer over pizzicato strings.
Of course, it’s scant preparation for “Initiation”, a narrative recounting an episode of nonconsensual sex, the confusion of the hapless victim recreated in the pitch shifted vocal that slosh around like reality beamed from a brain pickled in chemicals. The skittering, halting percussion and swirling guitars only adding to the fug of misery. The apathetic “Same Old Song”, with its languishing, multitracked chorus only serves to emphasise the moral void at the heart of Echoes of Silence. Whoever decided that Juicy J should pop up at the outro and yap “WE TRIPPY MANE!!!!” should be credited with producing the most unsettling non sequitur on a record this, or indeed, last year.
Of course, this being a reissue there is an obligatory bonus track alongside the marginal sonic improvements. “Till Dawn (Here Comes the Sun)” hardly cracks a window on the pervading and airless dark but it does feature some distinctly Cure-esque guitar lines which further flesh out the sense of the haunting and the haunted. The implication, as hinted at on Thursday, being that The Weeknd’s antihero is as much the victim to his own depravity as his actual victims, that he wanders an empty life rendered fulsome by drugs. The same substances that ultimately leave him even more of a husk of a man when he sweats ‘em all out again. That’s fine, particularly when it comes packaged with the kind of sonic inventiveness which helps channel R&B’s corporeality, its often inherent carnality, into tragedy of an almost operatic scale. But really, there’s only so long you can stare into the after-party before it stares back into you.
Published November 29, 2012. Words by Louise Brailey.