Review Summary: Classic, interrupted - a dissapointing mid-trio of tracks hang ominously over an otherwise classic album.
With Graduation, the final part of what seems like a quasi trilogy of albums; Kanye redeems the average awkward second album and produces an album that is in actual fact stronger than the much lauded College Dropout in some respects.
The opener, admittedly, is not promising - the slow pace, simple beat and Kanye still moaning about the education system is not the best way to open an album of such quality - but don't judge a book by its cover, and don't judge an album merely by it's opener, for the rest of the album proves to be Kanye's most consistent of them all - even typical braggadocio heavy cuts such as "Can't Tell Me Nothing" and, to a lesser extent, "Drunk and Hot Girls" outweighing their far more annoying counterparts on The College Dropout.
He's also cut out the skits, which means in theory playing the album without skipping anything is actually an option now. Tracks like "Champion" are as strong as any of the album tracks on previous albums, utilising an uplifting sample and motivational message, again giving the impression that this will be a fairly low key affair compared to some of his previous efforts - although subsequent track, monster single "Stronger" stomps that lingering thought out of existence, with the prominent Daft Punk sample serving to highlight Kanye's favourite person - himself - in a song that is equal parts dance floor classic and radio rap behemoth.
Near every song on here is a classic, and the track "I Wonder" starts with a warming, whimsical intro, with the touching, sentimental sample following on throughout the song - and adding a personal, emotive touch without delving into the kind of open mind/open heart content that characterises the latest chapter of Kanye's career. T-Pain, and his distinctive autotune dominated vocals are drafted in for album's other massive track, "The Good Life", which uses a sample of Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T (Pretty Young Thing)" to colour the tracks fairly basic beat, the vocal on the sample being raised higher to produce a track that is just as boastful as much other maligned mainstream rap - but Kanye carries it off with a sweetness and fun that allows him to get away with it.
The album does have a couple of forgettable tracks, most notably the plain "Barry Bonds", a misdirected bass heavy track that really doesn't fit onto the much lighter nature of the album - and a track that feels like filler on an album otherwise heavy in quality tracks. Although previously mentioned tracks "Can't Tell Me Nothing" and "Drunk and Hot Girls" were lauded for being less annoying than Kanye's previous tracks of a similar ilk, one feels that if Kanye steered clear of such tracks in general, and realised he is at his best when he is at his most fun, or most honest - not when hiding behind the same facade that many of his contemporaries do - and indeed, it is Kanye's difference to his peers as opposed to his similarities that have bought him his success - and he would do well to exploit it. That being said, one feels that Kanye will do what he wants, and as such, tracks such as the aforementioned may be a necessary evil on Kanye's future albums (assuming 808's was a detour as opposed to an entirely new route for him).
"Flashing Lights" starts the resurrection of the album after the average to poor mid section, with the music being top notch - the stuttering synths being a nice touch. The following track is a real highlight - Kanye at his most touching, and most relatable. A track that will strike a chord with anyone who isn't what people expect they should be, Kanye muses on the differences from his peers that was mentioned early on - the slow, piano led beat providing the backdrop for Kanye's introspective masterpiece. After the wondering, pondering "Everything I Am" comes the triumphant "The Glory" - an awesome one-two that definitely picks up the momentum after the sub-par mid section of the album, "The Glory" is a song marked by victory at every turn - from the lyrics, to the uplifting, positive beat and just the quality of the track in general, Kanye again using his trademark vocal sampling to great effect.
Another classic track in "Homecoming" comes after - Coldplay's Chris Martin lending his vocals to the tribute to Kanye's home town - Martin's yelps towards to end of the song adding to the undeniable emotion Kanye puts into the track - no one is pretending Kanye has the "best flow in the game" or anything like that, but this is a perfect example of it working, his songs being more about the emotion, the feeling and the glorious beats above razor sharp delivery. The album's closer, "Big Brother" is another emotional track - essentially Kanye's tribute to his mentor Jay-Z, he urges listeners to let the people they admire know it. Personal and individual whilst sending a message to the population at large, Kanye knows how to touch his audience, even when they have no reason to care about his friendship with Jay-Z - the themes being so universal that everyone can understand. Kanye has evolved, in some way, from the Kanye found on The College Dropout - less obsessed with college and all the "evils" it apparently entails, the strongest tracks here are those that strike a chord with the average listener, whilst still being very specifically about Kanye West - and as those tracks make up roughly half the album, with the two major singles adding to the list of quality tracks, this album comes highly recommended.