Why I Love Kiss Land


"I know you want your money, girl
'Cause you do this every day, okay
The way you doubt your feelings
And look the other way
Well, it's something I relate to
Your gift of nonchalance
Nobody's ever made me fall in love
With this amount of touch
Well, I'm not a fool
I just love that you're dead inside (That you're dead inside)
I'm not a fool, I'm just lifeless too
But you to taught me how to feel
When nobody ever would (Nobody ever would)
And you taught me how to love
What nobody ever could
Ooh girl, I know I should leave you
And learn to mistreat you
'Cause you belong to the world
And ooh girl, I want to embrace you
Domesticate you
But you belong to the world, you belong to the world."
Kiss Land was released in 2013. It is the most astonishing R&B album of the last decade, and probably a good bit before that too. It is the greatest work in the career of The Weeknd, unarguably the most prodigious and talented man working in R&B and music today. It is a dizzying, unified and astonishing work. It is in many ways a concept album about the isolation and fear that comes from a life that is lived in extremes. It is a masterpiece of Noir R&B. Noir R&B is music that examines the dark side of life, just like the great Noirs in literature and cinema. It is music that explores our capacity to do evil things, even when we think of ourselves as civilized. "Stay up 'til tomorrow just to tear down all these morals."

Noir R&B, for those who don't know is the name I give to the new wave of R&B, from about 2011 to today, encompassing artists like Frank Ocean, Miguel, Drake and of course The Weeknd, who is the King of Noir R&B. Noir R&B follows other media like films and literature in examining the dark impulses in human nature, particularly those that elucidate the temptations that lay the first bricks on the road to Hell. Fear and Loathing abound. The drugs and sex are familiar to anyone who has loved Rock over the years. Lou Reed is perhaps the most famous, and artistic sort who expressed the terror and loss that comes from a life lived underneath the bottle, and under the haze of various banned substances. Sex is seen by Reed as just another way to get out of your head and into your body. To forget the evil shit that is inside all of us, and to embrace the physical relief that comes from intercourse. Sex is still seen as an expression of dark impulses however. Have a listen to Reed's masterpiece Street Hassle and see what I mean. Whether it's exorcising aggression and a desire to kill all your enemies, sex is rarely seen by Reed as an expression of love.

R&B has traditionally stayed away from dealing with these topics. There were many sex songs, but happy, positive and holy ones. Nothing to compare with the bleak and savage world that Reed inhabited. An important album for the development of Noir R&B is the Marvin Gaye album Here, My Dear, which was recorded following Gaye's divorce from his wife Anna Gordy Gaye. It is a very dark album and in many ways influenced the tone and atmosphere that would come to define Noir R&B. Love is only love when it's lost. Another shout out to Michael Jackson for his song Morphine, which is arguably the single most influential song on the shape of Noir R&B. Here is an artist who was notoriously private, who rarely put his own emotional shit into a song - excluding of course the songs that expressed concern about the state of the world - and yet here is an intensely personal story about Michael's problems with drug addiction. The production too, with its grainy, aggressive and intoxicated feeling, marks it out as one of the landmark tracks in the birth of Noir R&B.

The Weeknd is in my opinion, the best person making music today, in any genre. He follows greats like Michael Jackson, Prince and R. Kelly in defining a point in time so perfectly with his music. Kiss Land is his best work, for its scope, its astonishing production and a 10/10 hit rate. Professional starts the album, with a mood setting sample from Emika's Professional Loving. "It's ideal. You need someone to tell you how to feel and you think your happiness is real. There's so much more the world has to reveal but you choose to be concealed. So you're somebody now but what's a somebody in a nobody town? I don't think you even know it. So you're somebody now but what's a somebody in a nobody town? You made enough to quit a couple years ago but it consumes you. It's everywhere you go and just the thought alone got you trippin', got you losing your mind. And I don't blame you. It's everything you know but I own this time, this ain't new. Now I decide when we're through."

This is Humphrey Bogart in a shadowy, smoke filled room, throwing back his third straight bourbon. In a Lonely Place. Love is a commodity. You can buy it, if you have the cash. This is control over women, to the point of abuse. This is manipulation and twisted sexual aggression. This is loveless desperation. Prostitution, whether in an official capacity or just someone who only fucks those who pay the bills, is a major theme on Kiss Land. Some people interpreted this as meaning that The Weeknd demeans women and thinks of them only as sex objects but this is missing the point quite severely. Taking the lead single Belong To The World as expressing best the voice of the album, let us examine what exactly The Weeknd is saying about women, and crucially about himself. "I'm not a fool, I just love that you're dead inside. I'm not a fool, I'm just lifeless too."

The only person who he can relate to is someone else who is also dead inside. Someone who understands the depths of despair that come from truly understanding yourself. He is so twisted by life that he can't love another who is well adjusted. He needs to know that the woman he's with has also looked into the void, and had the void look back. He feels he should abuse her, because that's what the world tells him is right, but he understands that she belongs to the world, not to him. "I wanna erase you, domesticate you, but you belong to the world." That is just some powerfully ill shit. It's not Nihilism or Sadism, it's hope in a hopeless world. The realization that this woman is owned only by the world - existence at large - and never to be tied to one man or woman, is something that I find to be powerfully moving. It is empowering in a funny way, and something that is far more complex and interesting than a large amount of popular music. That Portishead beat, MACHINE GUN, DO-DO-DIDDA-DIDDA-DO-DO WAOW. "You taught me how to feel when nobody ever would and you taught me how to love when nobody ever could." 

The Town is my favourite song on the album. It has an exceptionally beautiful vocal from Abel, and a production that alternates between smooth and raucous. Bashing piano keys give way to wavy synths and a gorgeous voice "You did many things that I liked. And you like diamond rings. I can provide for you. You made me feel so good before I left on the road. And you deserve your name on a crown, on a throne." Wanderlust is also a favourite, with a late 1970s Michael Jackson Disco flavour. Great sample from Fox the Fox's Precious Little Diamond. Seeing this song performed live in 2013 was a special thing. The bass thumping in your chest and your feet doing the moving... fucking magic.

Live For is, as of late October 2017, the last song to features Drake and The Weeknd on a track together. "Getting sober for a day, got me feeling too low. They're trying to make me slow down, trying to tell me how to live. I'm bout to lose control. They can watch me fuck it up all in one night. I'm in my city in the summer camo'd out, leather booted kissing bitches in the club. They wanna threesome, then some. Spend whatever come in, fuck an income. Me and my niggas we ain't never going broke and you, have to, do it all just to know where it gets you. Living dreams we can never afford. Now we sitting in the back saying:

This the shit that I live for, this the shit that I live for
This the shit that I live for, with the people I'd die for
This the shit that I live for, this the shit that I live for
This the shit that I live for, with the people I'd die for
This the shit that I live for, this the shit that I live for
This the shit that I live for, with the people I'd die for
This the shit that I live for, this the shit that I live for
This the shit that I live for, with the people I'd die for."

Live For contains my favourite verse by Drake on any track, perfectly complementing The Weeknd's mood, with an inspiring, FUCK YES salute to the universe. "There's some shit I need to work on but I know you see me working." That OVOXO MUST have an album at some stage. It would be a world beater. It is a stand up and say YES song. Don't be defeated. Stand up tall. Do your job. Be there for your friends. Be there for your loved ones. "Things I shouldn't share, I mean for the sake of my career. I'm not trying to stunt, I'm just telling you the truth I swear."

The title track of Kiss Land is an epic and a perfect definition of Noir R&B. Throat fucking with grills. Satanic pacts. "Not really into kisses leading into nothing." That synth that speaks of Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter and Cape Fear. Oppressive, overpowering. "Don't hold back, let it out." Screams in the night. Perverse synth and beat, twisting. "Probably not if my niggers round em up and probably not if we take em to my spot. And probably if I tweak all day just to sleep at night. Goddamn I'm high." And this ain't nothing to relate to. And this ain't nothing to relate to. Eclipse. Rosemary's Baby. The House of the Devil. We all go a little crazy sometimes.

Kiss Land is the greatest work of Noir R&B in the six years since the genre's creation. We've been living in a cold, cold world. The Weeknd is the villain, as is the listener, too scared to explore the same dark things in their own lives but happy to experience it by proxy. This is an album that should be spoken of in the same breath as In a Lonely Place, The Killer Inside Me and The Big Sleep, so intoxicating is its vision of the dark side of life. Musically, it is up there with Sign 'O' The Times by Prince, Bad by Michael Jackson and Chocolate Factory by R. Kelly. Seeing it live was a thrill and one I hope to repeat sometime soon. Given the right circumstances, you are capable of anything. Remember that. Remember The Weeknd. 

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