The Weeknd dances to death in ‘Dawn FM’

Apparently, The Weeknd’s idea of purgatory is to dance while transitioning from life to death, or at least, rebirth.

“Dawn FM,” an electronic- and-R&B-driven 16-track, 52-minute opus that serves as his fifth studio album and a sequel of sorts to 2020’s dark “After Hours,” finds Toronto’s Abel Tesfaye at the top of his form with a little help from some of his pals, including fellow Scarborough native Jim Carrey serving as an otherworldly radio personality occasionally narrating this profound portrait of the gateway to the afterlife.

“You’ve been in the dark for way too long /It’s time to walk into the light/ And accept your fate with open arms,” Carrey narrates about halfway the introductory title track, just after The Weeknd declares that he has to take this journey alone as he wonders what’s beyond the light.

At least, that’s the assumption, because although the album cover offers a picture of an aged Tesfaye adorned with frosted hair and greying beard, the meaning and symbolism behind his music missives are often delivered by a sleight of hand.

*****EPILEPSY WARNING ********

“Dawn FM” is no different.

For an album that’s allegedly isn’t supposed to be as dark as the character The Weeknd portrayed in “After Hours,” “Dawn FM” is pretty dark. You won’t hear it so much in the music itself: the grooves and melodies comprising the 16 tracks are quite pleasant and danceable, probably due to the fact that his dominant production co-conspirators on the new album are Dan Lopatin (a.k.a. Oneohtrix Point Never), The Swedish House Mafia and pop songwriting genius Max Martin (Tyler the Creator and Lil Wayne add some flows to the songs “Here We Go…Again” and “I Heard You’re Married” respectively.)

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So there are plenty of radio-friendly earworms amplified by Tesfaye’s impressively mellifluous voice, an instrument that is wielded so skilfully that it shields the listener from the sinister intent behind some of the lyrics, let alone the notion that all the men and women portrayed in the songs are damaged.

On “Take My Breath,” an extended version of a song released last Fall, for example, the Kraftwerk-like undulant synthesizer riff rippling over a prominent disco thud may sound like a celebratory occasion, but the song portrays a lover that wants to be asphyxiated during sex so she “can make it last forever,” with the male lover refusing to grant her request because of the worry that he’ll be caught.

“Girl, I don’t wanna be the one who pays the price,” Tesfaye sings.

The number “Gasoline” — which finds an unexpected Weeknd vocal that could have been plucked from a late ’70s new wave recording — is a song about addiction, with the singer taking false comfort that he won’t overdose in the process, but also offering that if it happens, he’s fine with the outcome.

The Weeknd's new album "Dawn FM" is expected to be released Jan. 7 from Universal.

“Sacrifice,” a clever nod to The Weeknd’s Michael Jackson influence with its funky rhythmic underlay, warns a potential lover that he treasures his own selfish time more than a romantic relationship, and shifts to a stance on “Best Friends” where any deviation from a friend-with-benefits relationship will not be tolerated, especially if emotions enter the picture.

“Sacrifice” also segues into a bizarre Quincy Jones reminiscence of watching his mother being removed from the producer’s home in a straitjacket due to suffering from dementia.

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The bizarre thing is that it’s actually Jones, the legendary producer, who is telling the story to Tesfaye, the recipient of the Quincy Jones Humanitarian Award last September. “A Tale By Quincy” is just an odd fit, but maybe not so misplaced considering the topic of the record.

“How Do I Make You Love Me,” driven my drum machine and the occasional synth burst, is another danceable gem that focuses on unrequited love, and the mid-tempo ballad “Out Of Time” is a realization that offering too little love resulted in a departure now tinged with regret.

On “Dawn FM,” any attempt at happiness seems doomed. Even when The Weeknd finally pledges his allegiance to a lover on the somewhat slick “Starry Eyes,” promising that he’ll be her rock of support and be there “for your heart,” he then gives her permission to “kick me to the curb” once she’s done with him.

Despite these negative themes disappointment — personal and otherwise — the album ends on kind of a positive note with “Phantom Regret by Jim,” a profound poem delivered by Carrey “ that concludes, “You gotta be Heaven to see Heaven.”

One could also argue that “Dawn FM” is another positive career step for The Weeknd, who manages to create another worthy and unforgettable work that should only carry forward the momentum generated by “After Hours.”

Sporting a bright disco, electronic and R&B exterior that glosses over a cynical interior, “Dawn FM” once again proves that The Weeknd is an Abel master of his dark R&B domain.

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