As the Weeknd transitioned from an enigmatic, leading voice in independent R&B to an explicit, leading voice in pop, he never lost any of the sordid worldview that made his 2011 trilogy of mixtapes so essential. He led 2015’s Beauty Behind the Madness with a track called “Can’t Feel My Face,” a narcotic funk jam that pushed him sonically to places he had never gone before. Now, just a little over a calendar year after he released his major label breakthrough, Abel Tesfaye is gearing up for his second LP in as many years. Starboy is led by the Daft Punk-assisted title-track, a song that continues to tap into the same thematic vein while pushing Tesfaye’s sound into yet another direction. When he sings “cut that ivory up,” he’s not talking about elephant tusks. But there’s a nimbleness to the way Tesfaye dances around the melody on the chorus, a finesse that is more in line with House of Balloons than Madness. Daft Punk produces, but their impact is felt more in the song’s tone than in its execution. The night-fueled production recalls the duo’s work on the Tron: Legacy OST, making a perfect synthesis between them and Tesfaye’s overarching themes. “Starboy” doesn’t hit as immediately as “Can’t Feel My Face” did – to be honest, not many songs do – but it also isn’t trying to. It turns out “Starboy” does exactly what it’s supposed to; remind us of what made the Weeknd so compelling in the first place while opening up avenues for him to travel down in the future. Maybe next time, he’ll shoot for the stars.
Stream “Starboy” via Apple Music.