With Kiss Land, The Weeknd tried to match his insular, self-loathing style with his new-found fame and worldliness. This created an interesting tension, taking the intimate, confessional feel of alt-R&B (or whatever you wanna call it) and trying to translate it to a bigger budget commercial release. The result is more polished than Abel Tesfaye’s mixtape trilogy but also (at times) more unsettling and jarring, which is commendable since it would’ve been easy to cash in and ditch the more challenging aspects of his sound now that he’s got label money to play with and radio success to consider.
So did he effectively adapt his persona to this new environment? We happened to fall under his spell yet again, giving the album a 4/5 and saying that while it was missing some of the gritty edges of his mixtapes, Kiss Land is “a cinematic, debaucherous concept album. It is an auditory guilt trip, teetering the line between a complete illusion of what’s reality and what’s Tesfaye’s sick fantasy.”
But that’s just us. Head below to see what the rest of the critics think.
:: Billboard tallied an 84/100 for the album, summing it up as “blissfully hi-fi headphone candy that’s not far from the Weeknd’s mixtape trilogy, but with an added flair for the dramatic.”
:: Pretty Much Amazing handed out an A-, saying, “This is Tsefaye without any smokescreen to hide behind, and the result is transfixing…Despite a few missteps, the majority of Kiss Land pulls off the transition seamlessly and without offense.”
:: Entertainment Weekly also graded it favorably (B-), calling the album “alienation that verges on transcendence.”
:: The L.A. Times handed out 3.5 stars out of 4 and wrote that “Kiss Land is a rough, worthy place to visit” and that it “finds some wounded humanity in Tesfaye’s controlled, quivering voice.”
:: The New York Times lauded it as “pulpy, mournful, pungent, unnerving,” concluding thusly: “Can you blame a person for breaking others when they’re so broken themselves?” Heavy!
:: SPIN rated the album a 7/10, commending its grandiosity: “Everything’s turned up. His voice sits prominent and high — in content and tone, he’s singing more directly to the listener than ever before — and if he’s overwhelmed, it’s simply a byproduct of the gargantuan drums and unyielding power-synth scaffolding.”
:: The Washington Post, though, felt it “unravels as a series of uninteresting romantic seductions conducted over a monochrome gray palette. There is menace but no drama. Rather than compelling ambiguity, there is only a sleazy vagueness.”
:: Pitchfork, who were early, intense proponents of Tesfaye, were harder on the album, giving it a 6.2/10 and throwing a hefty amount of shade in the process. “The project is rushing headlong into self-parody and Abel Tesfaye seems to be the only one who doesn’t realize it.
:: AllMusic gave Kiss Land a middling 2.5/5, saying the tracks are “leaden,” adding, “For those who aren’t as easily drawn into Tesfaye’s world, this will seem roughly as insufferable and as bleakly aimless as the earlier material.”
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