Normally I wouldn’t take the time to review a re-release of music that has already come out, but Trilogy, the debut “album” from the Weeknd that is in fact a combination of the three fantastic “Balloons” mixtapes he’s released over the course of 2011, marks the crossing of a superb artist over the threshold of the mainstream music industry and away from the underground mixtape market. No one should miss this sorrowful romance junkie with a voice like an angel who’s not afraid to snort that line of cocaine.
Not that the Weeknd (22-year-old Abel Tesfaye, apprentice to Drake) was ever under-appreciated. House of Balloons, though it was just a mixtape, was widely and justly regarded as one of the best albums of 2011. Its combination of bone-chilling crooning, persistent synths, and lurid rhymes made for an irresistible and nearly perfect nine songs. Its follow-up, Thursday, featured a little more instrumental variation, not necessarily with success. The third portion of the Weeknd’s debased triptych, Echoes of Silence, showed Abel striking the perfect balance between the hook-based synth setup of House and the experimentation of Thursday. It was the culmination of his growth as an artist over the course of … oh yes, that’s right, one year.
Cheating on one’s girlfriend with three drunk women in one night and mixing marijuana with pain pills are probably the lyrical themes that I can relate to least in this world, but even without a personal connection, the Weeknd’s music just oozes a bliss both synthetic and natural: Abel’s voice is a double helix of ice and honey, the hooks are haunting, and the soundscape creates (pleasant) disturbances in the stomach. This is, to use a phrase I employ when at a loss for words, just good music.
That’s been established. So, is it worth buying? Maybe. Probably. For one thing, the individual mixtapes, formerly free to download, are no longer available, making this the only place to acquire these 30 fantastic songs: for the price of one album, this is a tremendous value, especially considering that, when compared to the music market as it is today, there’s not a bad song in this set. There’s also something about hearing all three segments of the trilogy together that makes the whole more than the sum of its parts: when taken as a cohesive vision of drunkenness and lost love, the weaker songs on the second half of House of Balloons and in the middle of Thursday, the weakest of the three tapes, seem perfectly in place, like characters in a huge story about getting really high and cheating on one’s girlfriend again. One can still, of course, skip around to the tastiest and sexiest of the bunch (“Wicked Games”, “The Birds”, and the MJ cover “D.D.”).
Perhaps the addition of three new songs not included on the original mixtapes (“Twenty Eight”, “Valerie”, and “Til Dawn”, of which “Twenty Eight” is the best; it’s perhaps the most delightfully forlorn song of them all) isn’t enough to entice those who’ve already downloaded the mixtapes to buy Trilogy, but I’m not really here to play Bargain Shopper: I’m here to tell you that Trilogy is a delicious, enormous, sensuous piece of music from one of the most promising artists in music. Score: 10/10.
Jake Bittle / A&E Editor