Review Summary: The only thing that matters is the music.
I find it quite disrespectful, actually. I mean, maybe not on the same scale as jumping up on stage and ruining Taylor Swift's night, but in a way, it's a very similar and equally misguided ploy of distraction. Every time West emerges with new material, be it musical or otherwise, there's this narrative
. "You either love him or you hate him!" they chime in unison, knowing full well that the latter camp is much more crowded than the former. But it serves a purpose, because West has, for many, come to define controversy; they say that if there's one thing we can agree on, it's that there's no consensus when it comes to Kanye West. Blah, blah, blah. What I mean to say is: shut up. Who cares? So often we criticise mainstream artists for taking attention away from their music, and for selling sex instead of songs, but we're hypocrites, because we do the same thing with Lady GaGa and we do the same thing with Kanye West, and now more than ever it's a crime not to focus on the music.
The retort, obviously, is in how integral West's character and personality and already-formed legacy
all are to his artistic output. Clearly and surely, his discography cannot be entirely separated from the man himself! But neither are the two attached at the hip; every new record the man releases is touted as the real Kanye West
and by now it's clear that the real Kanye West
is a very fluid concept. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
is brilliant music produced and executed by Kanye West. It undoubtedly says some things about him; it probably also leaves some questions about him too. Again: who cares? Settling down with Fantasy
the incredible thing is that the VMAs and every other chapter of the West canon fall below the surface, and the only thing that matters is the music.
For all I've just said, one part of West's personality carries across in abundance to the way Fantasy
plays out; neither he nor this album give a damn about, or even own a copy of, the rulebook. This is most clear in the single-note piano introduction ('sparse' would be a wild understatement) to 'Runaway' – a song which itself collapses midway through and is sans-rap for its second half – and the outro to 'Blame Game' which is pretty much the closest thing to masturbation ever put on a disc. Kanye West knows he has your attention – he's earned it, after all – so he's going to do what he wants with it. Not everything is quite so self-indulgent, but almost all of it is just as good; standouts are difficult to pick since everything is so structure-defying and quirky – see the way opener 'Dark Fantasy' pretends to end about four times, grasping its opening motif from nowhere, or how the beat of 'Power' just sprints away from a gorgeous weaving synth line at its three-quarter mark. Yeah, it's one of those records:
An indie record.
In spirit, of course; I mean, a quick glance down the track listing reveals familiar hip-hop tones putting in memorable guest spots and features up and down this record, and it's undoubtedly a hip-hop album, one which melds West's earlier material with some of the understated goodness he demonstrated a knack for on 808s
. But at the same time it's also an indie record, and that's not just because Justin Vernon's here – although 'Lost in the World' is truly a phenomenal track. No, it's because for all that it will be called a pop album Fantasy
is unequivocally progressive, breaking trends and weaving things together that just shouldn't be done. Some parts of it feel completely unnatural, but nothing ever seems wrong
; the interlude track that precedes 'All of the Lights' is a beautiful instrumental sitting just after a song as raw as 'Power', a song which itself juxtaposes soulful backing chants with a sample of ‘21st Century Schizoid.' Ambitious? You bet.
And it pays off. This is a record which runs for over an hour but every moment feels warranted, and it's one of those rare times where the length of an album seems like a flat out virtue rather than a challenge to your ambition as a listener. Fantasy
is deep, not so much in its themes but certainly in its musical content; it writhes, spasms, collapses and rises with every passing egotistical verse and every perfectly selected sample, but in the end it emerges on its feet, towering over everything it tackles and ready for every piano note, every arrogant syllable to be digested. It remains to be seen how Fantasy
will affect the mainstream, because it really is a monster of a record, but it at least sets its stall out as a nominee for Best Album.
Of All Time.