The concept of “Dawn FM” is that of a radio station set in purgatory, with the album playing out as an hour long synth pop radio show hosted by Jim Carey of all people (yes, that Jim Carey). If “After Hours” was an embrace of the sound of the big budget 80’s blockbuster soundtracks, then “Dawn FM” is a full on dive into the number one hits on the radio during that time period, almost like if you went back in time and gave Michael Jackson a modern day synthesizer. The first half of the album is a run of groovey, four-on-the-floor bangers, then takes time to explore the many 80’s pop ballads and slows jams, only to return to a more upbeat pace at the very end. Now you can call it what it is, a blatantly obvious attempt to build an album around trying to recreate the magic on “Blinding Lights” as much as possible. But it’s hard to be too caught up on that when the result is an album that is more often than not sounds incredibly dreamy, futuristic, and catchy as hell. What can I say, I’m a synth slut, and the synthesizers here sound incredible. Bright arpeggios, lush pads, and thick bass all on top of groovey drums make a beautiful combination that is reminiscent of the past but sounds like it’s ripped from the future. Add that on top of The Weeknd’s beautiful voice and infectious hook game and you got an album that is club made.
“Dawn FM” was made as a way for Abel to deal with the hellscape world we‘be been living in, and is reflected by the often euphoric boos that play throughout this project. But it’s also reflected in the lyric material, which shows Tesfaye dealing with an existential introspection. Many of the lyrics here show Abel reflect on death, the after life, his past, and the regrets he has. There are even vocal snippets from Jim Carey, Quincy Jones, and fake radio sound bites that further elaborate on all of these themes, which all lead to an excellent monologue from Carey about how living with regret from the things you can’t change will destroy you and how you must accept what has happened in the past and move forward in order to find peace. Considering how many other albums from The Weeknd center around his character’s destructive lifestyle, these messages feel like a real turning point for the character, and considering how “After Hours” ended with Tesfaye seemingly implying that this destructive cycle will keep reoccurring until it kills him, the message of accepting and letting go of the past feels like the character is at a more hopeful place.
But while there are some great things about this album, “Dawn FM” is not without its drawbacks. While the first four proper songs are all danceable bangers, they all bleed together at a very similar tempo, drum beats, and overall sound. These songs are great, but the fact that they’re so similar and run back to back for an extended time makes the album feel like its stuck at the same place for its first quarter. Then there’s the issue with the slower songs, which sound great production wise, but I feel like they’re really undercooked on the writing front. The lyricism isn’t the best and the melodies aren’t very strong, even during the choruses. There’s also the issue of the two rap features from Lil Wayne and Tyler, the Creator, which I think are the two most disappointing tracks here. It’s not that I dislike either artist - Lil Wayne has a bunch of stuff I enjoy and I love Tyler, the Creator, and I actually was really excited to see what they would sound like in the context of futuristic 80’s synth pop - but the execution here is really poorly done in my opinion. I don’t think either respective song is that great to begin with, and both features feel really abrupt, out of place, and way too short to for either of them to do anything substantial or impactful, and it overall feels really awkward. And while I can appreciate an album that’s made to be a fun collection of bops and bangers, I do kind of prefer how conceptual and cinematic “After Hours” was. There aren’t many mainstream pop albums that are as ambitious and thematic as “After Hours” was, and while “Dawn FM” is a fantastic feat, I do feel like it’s a more transitional album than the album before it.
All in all, however, there’s a lot to love about “Dawn FM”, which will very likely spew out a shit of unavoidable songs over the course of the year. I’m not going to lie, re-reviewing “After Hours” and now reviewing this has been really fun to do, it’s made me consider re-evaluating The Weeknd’s previous efforts to see if I have any updated thoughts about his prior projects. What a solid way to start off the year in music, and while I don’t think this lives up to “After Hours”, “Dawn FM” leaves me more than excited to see where The Weeknd goes next.