The Weeknd’s Kiss Land plays like the alternative R&B version of sophomore albums by ’70s rock bands that documented how touring has thoroughly taken over their minds, bodies and souls. It’s a regressive worldview where women are represented either by prostitutes/strippers/groupies or long-suffering hometown girlfriends; drugs are ever-present, and Nix is as necessary as toothpaste.
Such excess ordinarily lends itself to comical clichés. Yet singer/lyricist Abel Tesfaye avoids the Spinal Tap effect by emphasizing the physical and emotional brutality of his vagabond existence: Kiss Land opens with “Professional,” a typically crepuscular ballad ostensibly delivered to a pole dancer/hooker that might as well also be targeted to Tesfaye himself. “You’ve got it made/ Because your freedom was here in this cage all along,” he sings in his tortured falsetto between choruses borrowed from Emika’s similarly bleak “Professional Loving.” A sense of impending doom hangs over this and every subsequent interaction, and if you don’t get the sense that the singer sees himself mirrored in all the squalor, you’ll probably be repulsed by the moralizing that comes entwined with his seductions.
Road life may have made the singer even more cynical, but all his newfound worldliness hasn’t broadened his palate much. The sole deviation, “Wanderlust,” is essentially a remake of “Precious Little Diamond,” a mid-’80s club hit by Dutch synth-poppers Fox the Fox, here rewritten to address a woman who Tesfaye beckons to climb aboard the Weeknd train. The beat drops out long enough to clear a floor, but otherwise it’s an uptempo club anthem. The rest sticks to the Trilogy mold: Another love song/sermon to an additional call girl, “Belong to the World,” even samples Portishead — as obvious a roots move as Aerosmith covering “Train Kept A-Rollin’.” Indeed, Kiss Land is essentially that band’s Get Your Wings with most every song a trip-hop variation on “Lord of the Thighs.” May Tesfaye live long enough to find his Toys in the Attic.