Abel Tesfaye has forged his career by straddling the experimental and the mainstream. Under the moniker The Weeknd, he’s proven himself to be a master when it comes to exploring the strange, seedy underbelly of desire, but doing so in a way that never sacrifices the enjoyment of potential listeners. He’s like Drake on a post-break up bender, or Michael Jackson on a LSD trip.
That said, with his new single, Can’t Feel My Face, Tesfaye seems to have dropped some of the more difficult elements of his work. There is something oddly innocuous about the tune; it never seems to stretch itself, or move outside the predictable confines of a safe zone. The instrumentation is mundane; the lyric is uninspired; and the emotions that drive the track feel stunted, and one-note. It’s mainstream pop fodder of the most derivative order.
Nonetheless, Tesfaye’s voice remains as impressive as ever. He manages to sing in a way that’s slick and lusty, without ever coming across like one of the warbling, weak crooners that dominate the airwaves.
Indeed, for all its faults, Can’t Feel My Face certainly isn’t bad. It’s a pleasant diversion, but the fact that it was released by an artist who has done so much better in the past makes it a particulary sad kind of let down.