Review Summary: Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak does not equal Radiohead's Kid A. However, the album is one of the best albums released this year... even with the Auto-Tune.
Before I start to discuss the album in great detail, I must answer a few things. First topic: Why am I writing a review to an album that hasn't been released yet in the states? Well, technically it's hasn't been released in its proper form, but since it has been released in other countries, coupled with the fact that the album HAS been streaming at Kanye West's myspace (and streamed at MuchMusic Canada days earlier) and since it had many, many leaks
, I don't think that I'm making a sudden review.
Second point: Your review rating is quite high, so I guess you like the Auto-Tune (a process of correcting pitches so it is on key, and is used on, but not limited to, vocals), right? No, to put it simply. Although some artists... OK, mainly T-Pain and Cher (on Believe) have found a way to do it well, this has been used too much lately by many artists (Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Rihanna, etc.) and sounds very annoying, to say the least.
Last topic and I'll move on: You must be going through a difficult time in your life? Not really, to be honest. Besides the normal stresses (and starting to settle into college life), I'm pretty happy with my life (that question has been used a lot in some reviews)... although if you ask me this 9 months ago, the answer would've been a quick yes. Anyway, let's go to the actual review!
If you looked at my second question, you'll notice that I did use West as an example of artists who rely on the Auto-Tune effect to a negative effect, and I still agree with that fact. However, on 808s and Heartbreak
, it makes sense for his vocals to be processed heavily, almost being an instrument (although not quite). I don't think most people could stand an album with West's natural
singing voice, so this does add some tolerance to the album.
The basic album was recorded in three weeks at Hawaii - oddly enough, the area code for the state is 808 - and deals with the breakup of his girlfriend of six years (and fiancé for the last eighteen months of his relationship), and the loss of his mother, whom he was very close to. Although it was made at an understandingly depressing point of his life, it proves how great a producer he is. Most of the tracks on the album are minimal, with the Roland TR-808 drum machine, and electronic synthesizers, although some feature strings, piano, and additional vocals. It also has a strong focus. This album feels like an album
something that even his previous albums don't match (although I'm not mentioning that they are worse albums in the slightest... except arguably Graduation)
The album begins and ends with six-minute songs, Say You Will
and the live recording of Pinocchio Story
. Although I believe the last track should've been recorded in the studio, Say You Will
is a great album opener. It's epic in sound, and gives the listener a good insight what the album will be like (as if the album cover and the title of the album wasn't enough). The initial track listing would have placed the opener towards the end, and Welcome to Heartbreak
would've been the opener instead.
Listening to the final version of the song compared to a version one of my friends was listening to, I think the latter version would've been a great opener (I remember the piano on the album was replaced with a synth line, and maybe a bit slower). However, it doesn't make sense to have two openers for an album (probably the main weakness to a completely unrelated album, Hercules and Love Affair
, had this year), so the additional tweaking makes sense.
The released singles (Love Lockdown
) are also pretty good as well. Love Lockdown has one of the best bass lines this year; it's alluring and gives the song much needed tension. The incoming of drums at the chorus and the outro also make the song as well, as it doesn't break the tension but adds to it, making it more highlighted. Heartless
is great as well. It features some of the most emotional lyrics and vocals on the album, discussing how awkward and taxing break-ups are.
The highlight of the album is Streetlights
. It features West in his natural voice, excluding the background static accompanying it. Despite the static, the song feels vulnerable and noticeably naked (something that, excluding Pinocchio Story
, I cannot say for the rest of the songs on the album). The lyrics seem to be about the getting to a place for the night, but it won't be home, and it will not let him forget about what has happened ("See, I know my destination, but I'm just not there). Also, the song features something unique to the album: female backing vocals provided by singer-songwriter Esthero (AKA the voice of J.A.N.E. on West's Glow in the Dark tour). The music is minimal, with an insistent drum pattern, simple piano, and a synth line... but it adds a choral of vocals in the second half of the album... perhaps symbolizing the "moments passing" in West's life.
A short mention of the other tracks: Paranoid
(the most upbeat track on the album); See You In My Nightmares
(great song until the featured Lil' Wayne starts screaming, and the song truly becomes a nightmarish song); Coldest Winter
(a song about the loss of his mother, which recreates - not samples - elements of Memories Fade
by Tears for Fears); Bad News
(the most emotional song on the album); Amazing
(a vaudeville-esque song which features Young Yeezy rapping... the only rap on the album without Auto-Tune); and Pinocchio Story
(a live freestyle recorded from Singapore in which he wishes to "be a real boy").
To begin summing this review up, 808s & Heartbreak
is a departure for West, and although it will alienate and cause anger to some of his fans (as the singles alone has caused strong division), it will bring new ones as well. This album, as mentioned in the summary, IS NOT hip-hop's answer to Radiohead's Kid A, as some reviewers have mentioned. Although it's different to what hip-hop fans are accustomed to, West follows a trend that he had been using for quite some time, and he has been singing since College Dropout
(unlike Kid A, which completely changed Radiohead from guitar rockers to electronic jammers that was something rock really didn't implement as strongly as Radiohead did, for better or worse).
On the penultimate (second to final) track on the album, Coldest Winter
, he mentions "will [he] ever love again?" I hope he does.