The Weeknd “Trilogy” (Universal Republic)
In 2011, Toronto singer Abel Tesfaye and producers Doc McKinney and Illangelo released three free albums, “House of Balloons,” “Thursday” and “Echoes of Silence,” and taken as a whole, The Weeknd's releases, now collected in “Trilogy,” constitute a slow-motion revolution in which a relative outsider threw the artistic equivalent of a Molotov cocktail into modern soul music and forced an entire genre to take stock of its lightweight recent history. This seductive but horrifying narrative about a multiday party going horribly wrong plays like Drake and Nine Inch Nails adapting a Hubert Selby novel into a soul opera.
In his angelic tenor, Tesfaye delivers his thesis statement/first warning with “High For This” and then the party starts, but if the Siouxsie-sampling “House of Balloons” feels like romanticized debauchery, its segue into “Glass Table Girls” confirms that Tesfaye's character is destined for a hard fall. With “Thursday,” there are implications that this party will have a body count, and by the mournful third disc, which begins with a venal and vocally impressive cover of Michael Jackson's “Dirty Diana,” the cold light of day is illuminating all that went wrong.
Although it seemed likely as Tesfaye was rolling out the original releases, “Trilogy” now suggests that this steep rise-and-fall story was fully sketched out from the beginning and that he intends this not as compilation or anthology, but as a complete piece. The new songs that end each disc, “Twenty-Eight,” “Valerie” and “Til Dawn (Here Comes the Sun),” add little to the narrative, but they do not distract from it either. Tesfaye now faces the unenviable task of living up to “Trilogy” on future releases, but even if this is The Weeknd's high water mark, it will likely be the album by which the coming decade's R&B releases are measured.
— George Lang