Upon Abel Tesfaye's initial fusillade of tracks, he was heralded as the "best talent since Michael Jackson" by MTV. Indeed Tesfaye's dulcet tones do bear a hint of the Prince of Pop (and his cover of 'Dirty Diana' probably reinforced comparisons), but there's no way you'd catch MJ crooning with this kind of lewd, bare-faced proclivity. Your butt may be his, but Michael Jackson is still family-friendly; you wouldn't play The Weeknd to your kids, and you most definitely wouldn't leave him alone with your wife.

R&B's Ontario-born wunderkind is like an aural taser: he shocks and stuns all-comers, leaving them dribbling on the floor in a kind of mesmerised awe/coma of emotional trauma. It's not often an artist of this calibre wanders into the public eye, and you probably wouldn't assume that kind of talent to emanate from Drake's cadre (nowt against Drizzy, but Tesfaye is a musical messiah, and, y'know, the YOLO thing...). Regardless, Tesfaye did, and although we've been treated to a smorgasbord of the most ingenious future-R&B recently (Frank Ocean, Solange, Justin Timberlake and what feels like a million more), few escape to the cloud nine Tesfaye situates. His trio of sparkling, lauded mixtapes, fused for his first 'album', Trilogy, garnered universal acclaim and a nifty score on Metacritic. It's with plenty of white-knuckled, pant-pissing excitement that Tesfaye's real first full-length, Kiss Land, is unleashed.

And blimey, it doesn't half live up to the hype. Expect it to Channel ORANGE (a verb which means 'to wipe the floor with') everything else released this year.

Refn-esque shindigs and seedy jamborees are also prevalent elements that Tesfaye chimes about on Trilogy, and he does so with a relative surreptitiousness. He wasn't exactly being coy, but when you look at how R-rated his lyrics are on Kiss Land, you can see a difference. He spoke of intimate small-town shenanigans, back when his focus was squarely on the adolescent hedonism one would expect from a 21-year-old.

He once described the differences between the two albums: "From when I was born to when I was 21, I never left Toronto. That's why I'm such a city cat. Trilogy is my experiences in those four walls. Kiss Land is me doing the things I did in Trilogy in different settings." What's immediately evident, is that those "same things" had a profoundly different effect on his psyche. With everything turned up to 11, it appears he no longer feels in control of himself. Where Trilogy is about a big fish in a little pond, Kiss Land is about a tiny fish in an ocean.

Tesfaye's nihilistic streak has been bolstered by 24 months of media expectations, invaded privacy and fanatical critique. Tesfaye has trotted the globe, and in little over a year ascended from a semi-nobody into the realms of adored icon. It's made a dangerous dent in his soul; when he's enveloped by an array of brown-nosers and groupies and industry sharks, it's tough to discern the diamonds in the rough. The relentless touring and subsequent thrust into the spotlight is an unnatural turn for him, and it's the central tenet of Kiss Land. He may boast and puff his chest with rap bravado, but he's not fooling anyone - this is a confession. He expunges the vilest portions of his personality and casts aside his sinner mentality; there's no way anyone is going to believe that Tesfaye is a goody two-shoes, but Kiss Land isn't a record listing his conquests or his cavorting prowess. It's so much more.

This is a concept album, pure and simple. We rattle around in a mine cart through the grottiest recesses of his burnt-out grey matter. Tesfaye uses copulation, mostly, as a literary tool. There have been a few mumblings of misogynist tendencies in relation to this record, and while Tesfaye isn't the most tactile lyricist, he doesn't seem to be deliberately trying to belittle genders - this isn't a 'Blurred Lines' fiasco. The women he speaks of are physical representations of the strife in his current world.

The idea isn't that women are purely dolls to fuck (though he can come across a bit animistic in that respect, frothing at the mouth for booty), but more that they're the essence and/or personification of his crumbling sanity. So, basically, while he lacks the eloquence to use other metaphors, it doesn't seem like he's really trying to reel off a list of fantasies as it may seem at first. His incessant teenage obsession with the fairer sex is a consequence of his truer intentions. Misguided as he is in the implementation of his technique, it's not a conscious effort at misogyny (not that misogyny is often a deliberate choice, rather a side-effect of upbringing or media or environment - but that's a whole 'nother story). His aim is to make use of antagonistic passages/phrases/content to get across his cocktail of complex emotional nuisances like isolation, terror and self-consciousness. He intends to flummox his audience into almost feeling same monstrous, head-wracked mindset he's weighed down by - by using shocking, outrageous language.

For Tesfaye, this record deals with him leaving home to undertake a rite of passage into fame. It's akin to Bret Easton Ellis' Less Than Zero. Where Ellis explores a consumer-focused youth, the falseness of social elite and a profound emptiness, so does Kiss Land. In more than a few ways, Kiss Land takes the role of an album chained to a certain time in his life, it's about him growing accustomed to a new lifestyle and going off to the big, bad world. Just as Clay in Less Than Zero bears a resentment to his current, grown-up state, so does Tesfaye.

In some respects, Kiss Land is an Artaudian OST. Smothered in flickering strobe and the gargantuan claustrophobia of living as a celebrity, he uses jarring, uncomfortable techniques to estrange. It's an opera of cruelty more like performance art than a conventional album. There are still moments of pop and it's got a few single-worthy cuts - you can still 'enjoy' it in a traditional sense - but as well as that, you can also appreciate it as a distressing internal debate from of an individual threshed by a machine he can't entirely comprehend. Drawing parallels, and on a broader scale, it's also discussing an entire wave of youth who intend to flee a hideous modern world reality through chemicals, faux-intimacy, immature placations and the razzle-dazzle of gloosy tabloids in a vain attempt to cower from reality. This record is as much about escapism from a putrid present as it is about Tesfaye's brain.

On 'Kiss Land', the single, Tesfaye's edge-of-orgasm gasping and coquettish tones exude some sort of sonic aphrodisiac that induces trouser-tenting/lady boners. Aside from all the aural pleasures (snigger), it's a storming slice of future R&B; hacked scream samples, diamond-glimmer synths and dark, lascivious beats all yell penthouse chic. It's rammed with meaty hooks and veiny, throbbing percussion. It's a rhythm you follow, wink wink nudge nudge. If there's better production on a track in 2013, it's yet to rear its head.

On a more sincere note, this is a troubling song. It's psychotic and sociopathic. It's filled with narcotics and fornication: "I mix it up with some Adderalls and I wait to get to the top/ and I mix it up with some alcohol and I pour it up in a shot," is self-explanatory, as is "White Russians with tongue tricks/ I like the feeling of tongue rings." It's a VIP-lounge spiel of lust, but it's a mask for the chronic anxiety, touched upon in the explanatory verse filled with loner snippets such as: "And I don't got any friends," "I don't care about you, why you worried 'bout me?" and "I got a brand new place, I think I've seen it twice all year." He's alone amongst this wolf-pack of high-profile names and narcissists trying to duct tape themselves to him.

'Kiss Land' is a cross-section of the LP in theme and musicality. Tesfaye's brainchild is brimming with Amsterdam-debauchery and phenomenal, unmatched production. Welcoming you into the album, 'Professional' is cut of tropical snapshots. Speckled with glistening synth glitter and the distinctly '80s beats - almost like the OST to Labyrinth. His golden voice is absolutely perfect and the music that it's all set to feels like an Oscar-winning film. It's incredibly cinematic when smooshed together. Which is exactly Tesfaye's intention: "A lot of it is inspired by filmmakers like John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, and Ridley Scott, because they know how to capture fear. That's what Kiss Land is to me, an environment that's just honest fear. I don't know who I am right now and I'm doing all these outlandish things in these settings that I'm not familiar with. To me, it's the most terrifying thing ever."

On 'Tears In The Rain', perhaps a nod to Blade Runner's closing dialogue, he's lost a lot of his smoke'n'mirrors wordplay: "Don't show the world how alone you've become." It's heartbreaking when he drops the line: "I deserve to be by myself/ because I've gone too far/ and I started too young to give up/ and even if I changed/ it would be too late." It's under the veil of a relationship, but there's no fooling anyone during this regretful dirge. 'Belong To The World' is Tesfaye's role reversal with a prostitute; he's using the allusion of a woman selling herself for sex as a way to describe the way he feels about his fame. He feels hollow and shallow; a vacant spirit.

Granted, Tesfaye doesn't always stick to the script when he approaches his main goals of conveying discontent and disillusionment, perhaps down to a blinkered loss of sensitivity due his current lifestyle. Sometimes, his aim waivers. On the Drake-featuring 'Live For', Tesfaye's way more huffy and bolshy - he loses that tragic edge, and instead sounds a bit Rick Ross-y. Maybe it can be put down to Drake? Tesfaye's got a creepy obsession on 'Pretty', which is largely weird, and uncharacteristic. There's a lot of talk of brief encounters and one night stands - either free or not - which tends to give the record a bit of a 50 Cent-style misogyny. However, most of it is an ongoing allegory for his dislocated mindset - Tesfaye could have benefited from a different thesaurus. There's blatant references to narcotic supplements (Rap Genius counts 10 different drugs on 'Kiss Land'), but on the whole, Tesfaye opts to spout sexual profanities. Either way, it's not really an album about the surface-level narratives. Sex/drugs or whatever are interchangeable, prolonged shrouds. It's an album about isolation, hysteria and existence. Look deeper.

Kiss Land is a concept album. It may well have a pop streak that you can hum along to, get mashed to and get stuck in your head, but on the whole, this is a frank, open-hearted discussion of Tesfaye's darkest moments. You'll be under his spell, adoring every word from his lips. You'll worship him. It's a nerve-wracking assault, a hyperventilating onslaught of panicky beats, a musical representation of being lost in a foreign city at night. It's an intensive bout of crumbling introspection, and an ode to lost privacy; it's anonymity's epitaph. Tesfaye doesn't just wear his heart on his sleeve, he tears it out his chest and thrusts it at your face, weeping the whole time. If you didn't understand the buzz before, you'll be well-acquainted after experiencing Kiss Land.


See Also: That's what Larry thought of the album, but our review largely disagrees. What do you think?