The second of three free albums planned this year from downcast R&B project The Weeknd, Thursday garnered an impressive 180,000 downloads in its first day, due in no small part to the star power of rapper Drake, who spiritedly endorsed the artist’s first album, House Of Balloons, and delivers a guest verse on this one. In Weeknd singer Abel Tesfaye, a fellow Toronto native, Drake has found a kindred spirit. Tesfaye’s music taps the same dejected vein as Drake’s recent work, and both acts are equally drawn to and disgusted by the party lifestyle and easy sex that many other young rap and R&B acts idealize. But where Drake puts a friendly face on his addictions and anxieties—at heart he’s a romantic, his search for the right woman merely complicated by temptations that arise from fame—Tesfaye pushes the same subject matter to lurid extremes that a radio personality never could. Throughout Thursday, an even gloomier follow-up to an already bleak debut, Tesfaye casts himself as an unrepentant ghoul, coercing women into hateful sex before coldly discarding them.
“I’ve been making love to her through you, so let me keep my eyes closed,” Tesfaye sings on the track he splits with Drake, “The Zone,” and that faint suggestion that there’s heartbreak at the root of his cruelty is as close as he comes to humanizing himself. With its demented reggae sway and menacing, goth-rock grind, the standout “Life Of The Party” pushes The Weeknd into the realm of outright terror (it’s easy to imagine Tesfaye recording it in the cave from Lost Boys). The album’s softer songs rely on storytelling to cast a different kind of chill. “The Birds” is a horrid tale told in two parts, the first detailing Tesfaye’s manipulative seduction of a reluctant victim, the second, its tearful aftermath. Though Thursday is skimpier on immediate hooks than House Of Balloons, its production is every bit as immersive and sumptuous, and Tesfaye’s lyrics are even more gripping in their repulsiveness. It’s a rare songwriter who can craft music that’s so repellent yet also so irresistible.