Despite the things that producer cum R&B star The Weeknd does right on Trilogy, his studio debut, the songwriter’s tendency to do too much simply because he can threatens to diminish his significant accomplishments.
Trilogy, as its moniker implies, consists of not one, but three, ten-track albums. Most of this material has been culled from The Weeknd’s earlier mixtapes, but with the inclusion of a few new tracks and a full, studio remastering, The Weeknd is attempting to pass off this two-and-a-half hours worth of material as worthy of fresh consideration in its own right.
For the most part, Trilogy justifies this assertion. Though the album sheds some of its momentum after disc one, the LP maintains an original feel and a stylish sense of its own project throughout.
The Weeknd’s customary mode recalls Frank Ocean’s melancholy, sprawling take on R&B, but doesn’t go quite as far as Ocean in the direction of “weird.” This actually works just fine, seeing as Weeknd has plenty to say in his own right.
Trilogy concerns itself with the drug-addled hookups that Ocean, Weeknd and Drake (who makes his mandated appearance on “The Zone”) would have us believe are as common in Los Angeles as mile-long traffic jams.
Weeknd avoids falling into the flaccid, love-struck posturing affected by Chris Brown and the like, which makes his R&B a much more interesting phenomenon. Granted, lugubrious consideration of substance abuse is well on the way to becoming an R&B cliché in its own right, but Weeknd keeps the material fresh by investigating it from varying angles. As you can probably guess about a man whose debut album stretches to 30 tracks, The Weeknd doesn’t lack for ambition.
Trilogy boasts an assured sense of its own stylistic provenance. The spare, menacing mood established by disc-one tracks like “Wicked Games” and “House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls” gets treated to tweaks and flourishes throughout the two discs that follow. By the time its 30-track marathon has completed its run, Trilogy has offered enough engaging ideas to sustain most artists throughout their entire careers.
Trilogy’s various parts—the ambitious beats, Weeknd’s confident lyrics, the attention to the album’s thematic provenance—fit together surprisingly well. Inside Trilogy lies one, rock-solid R&B debut, but The Weeknd makes the only miscalculation of which he’s capable and overplays his well-stacked hand.
Ambitious debuts are all well and good, but the three-part, mega-album is a specimen best saved for mid-career when you’ve backed yourself into the awkward situation of having to one-up your own brilliant successes.
It’s hard enough to get listeners to take a chance on a new artist as it is. Asking them to sit patiently through nearly three hours of music (much of which suffers from a case of diminishing returns) threatens to undo The Weeknd’s remarkable accomplishments.
Nonetheless, with Trilogy, The Weeknd has established himself as one of R&B’s most exciting voices. Were Trilogy not released in the same year as channelORANGE, Weeknd would easily qualify as the year’s most exciting R&B artist. As it is, he’s falling just short of a dramatically raised bar.