Song: ‘Take My Breath’
Artist: The Weeknd
US chart peak: 6
Release date: August 6, 2021
Writers: Abel Tesfaye, Ahmad Balshe, Max Martin, Oscar Holter
Producers: Max Martin, Oscar Holter, The Weeknd
Quintessential Max moment: The little pause in the chorus after “take my breath” and before “…away”
Video synopsis: Quite 00s-looking basement club scene meets heavy-handed drug public service video
The last time The Weeknd rushed out a hasty follow-up (2016’s ‘Starboy’) to a hugely successful album (2015’s ‘Beauty Behind the Madness’), it all felt a bit, well, rushed. Just two months after After Hours’ ‘Save Your Tears’ (Ariana remix) peaked at number 1 in America, he’s back with the first single from that album’s follow-up, rumoured to be called ‘The Dawn’. But this feels like a very different Abel now, with that run of singles – modern classic ‘Blinding Lights’ recently broke a US chart record after it spent its 88th week (!) in the top 100 (it remains in the top 20) – properly cementing him as the biggest and best popstar on the planet.
He’s clearly also found a groove with Max and co-producer Oscar Holter who return after creating three of After Hours’ four singles for this Moroder-esque disco stomper. Channeling the likes of Donna Summer and the Bee Gees it struts its way onto the same dancefloor as recent singles by the likes of Dua Lipa and Doja Cat, with its retro references emboldened by its sinewy production. This is no flat pastiche. Everything here is buffed to a crystalline sheen from that chugging opening bass riff to the fluttering synths to that more searching electro pulse that underscores Abel’s wordless middle eight (it’s worth listening to the instrumental version on Spotify actually, and I have never said those words before). It’s so shiny you initially don’t notice the lyrics, the glare ricocheting disco ball-style off of the kitchen tiles as you shimmer around.
As with so many songs by The Weeknd, ‘Take My Breath’ is about an attractive young lady who catches Abel’s eye but is, you guessed it, dangerous. Of course that just makes him want her more, even when she suddenly reveals her fantasy is actually autoerotic asphyxiation. Ever the concerned clubber, The Weeknd sings “you’re way too young to end your life” and, one would hope, gets her a glass of water. As with the other Weeknd/Max collaborations, the lyrical darkness is shrouded in such sparkly melodic packaging that it’s all turned down to a palatable PG-13, or glossed over completely.
While, for me, it doesn’t quite gel as expertly as, say, ‘Blinding Lights’ or ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ (and they are high watermarks, I know), it’s packed with detail. There’s a lovely bit in the pre-chorus where the melody shifts up a gear, some pitter patter drums kick in and The Weeknd glides into the “it’s like a dream…” part like Off The Wall-era MJ. That whole instrumental middle eight bit adds lashings of drama, while Abel’s voice sounds properly incredible throughout, all soft falsetto and deep yearning. Also, so clever to create a chorus that doesn’t follow the typical rules, ie, after the canter of the pre-chorus it suddenly pauses the song after “take my breath”, allowing everyone a rest, before the “…away” bit arrives and is drawn out slightly longer than expected. “Awayyyyy”. A proper old school “juicy bit”, as was/is the Max mantra.