Roughly three weeks ago, pop sensation Taylor Swift released her junior album to generally positive critical acclaim. Reviewers commended her for her lyrical honesty, noting that she reflected her current lifestyle rather than clinging to the same old tales of teenage puppy love and high school football games. Today, Kanye West – the same man who infamously rained on her parade by stealing the spotlight from her during her acceptance speech at the VMA awards – should be receiving acclaim for essentially the same thing. After his mic-hijacking high jinks, West took a (presumably) self-imposed hiatus for an indefinite period of time. Throw on top of that two consecutive subpar full-lengths (one of which was a pop crossover) and strangely enough, Kanye’s`career seemed to be over as far as relevance went. Yet, just as the crickets started chirping, we heard a very loud boom. In late May, he busted back on the scene late this May with “Power”, the lead single for his then-upcoming LP. The song was fueled by passion, overwhelming lyrical tact, and an obscure and awesome prog-rock sample, and it was the locomotive that powered – no pun intended – the ensuing hype train. Cab after cab passed and it seemed there was no end in sight. Changes in album titles, a hit-and-miss weekly MP3 series, the #1 artist Twitter feed (according to hipster heavyweight Pitchfork), talk show appearances and interviews, controversial cover art, narcissistic and outlandish dental antics, and an avant-garde short film all served to build up feverish hype. And just as soon as it appeared that we would just have to kill time until it dropped – a leak surfaced. The caboose had finally arrived, and was the wait worth it?
You bet your ass it was.
But, why? Well, for starters, it’s Kanye’s most musically ambitious record to date and he expounds upon his already impressive lyrical prowess; although it’s largely due to the former that this album succeeds. In a sense, this effort is a transversal of Late Registration and The College Dropout. That is – to paraphrase Noz – more sonically cohesive and less thematically and organizationally coherent. It’s overly long and, at times, lyrically unfocused, but damn, when everything’s clicking, dare I say it flirts with classic status. The album hits the ground running with “Dark Fantasy” which quickly turns into a delightful hot streak that disappointingly ends at “All of the Lights”, but as it trudges on, it exponentially delves into bothersome, oft-prolonged inconsistency, but damned if it isn’t a great album.
To reiterate, the musicality of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
isn’t the problem. In fact, I think you’d have a rather difficult time finding a weak beat out of the bunch. Kanye somewhat strays from his signature soul-sampling ways to, to quote legendary producer Pete Rock, “take it to another level”; branching out into a complex, largely rock-influenced sound. The Louie Vutton Don incorporates elements of blue-eyed soul, prog, art rock, and power pop with rock noir and soul vocal samples to carve out a uniquely and equally atmospheric, advanced, and artsy sonic niche. Despite its wide array of influences, the production is for the most part simplistic, yet complexly anecdotal in construction. It’s not merely comprised of sounds, Kanye tastefully mixes in effects as well; nothing too complex or overly texturized, just a subtle echo here and perhaps a slight reverb there. Not to mention, he’s compiled by an ace selection of radio-ready hooks and it’s obvious that the final product is nothing short of, well, astounding. “The production here is, quite honestly, masterful.
The only downside to this is that it sets an expectation for a level of lyricism which Kanye is virtually incapable of achieving. Nonetheless, there are some pretty impressive lyrical moments here. West switches back and forth from unfaltering bravado and clever wordplay to schizophrenic, occasionally bipolar emotional narratives, all the while mixing in personal details that make the album all the more accessible. His boasting can come in the form of pious grandeur (“This pimp is/On top of Mount Olympus/Waitin’ for the world’s games – this is my Olympics”,) extended rhyme schemes (“My only focus is/Stayin’ on some bogus sh*t/ With my older b*tch/Actin’ like I owe her sh*t”) or even absurdity (“Choke a f*ckin’ South Park writer with a fish stick”,) amongst many others, but there’s only one vein through which he delivers his: angst-y passion. The love-hate narrative of “Blame Game” is up there (along with “Gorgeous”) for track of the year and “Power” is a superb and subtle parable comprised of governmental and religious conspiracy theories.
Most of the errors made on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
are executive decisions that, in turn, lead to an at-times mildly unpleasant listening experience. Kanye seems not to have a good concept of what guests to use and often lets track drone on for way too long. The hook-verse 1-2 punch of KiD CuDi and Raekwon on “Gorgeous”, good idea; Rick Ross on the beautiful-sounding “Devil In A New Dress”, bad idea. “Runaway” featuring Pusha T commits the biggest foul though; it unjustifiably runs over just nine minutes, and with half of the time being occupied by autotuned gurgling and the other half being fairly boring, doesn't retain my attention for very long. Furthermore, if you’ve even somewhat paid attention to the G.O.O.D. Fridays, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy can be somewhat of an uneven listen, as a few tracks will sound relatively dated.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
is a comeback of magnanimous proportions (take that!, Eminem) and an experiment triumphantly successful. However, it is beleaguered by a mishap or two. It doesn’t help his cause for this album that the album ends in a whimper with a measly skit. Kanye’s ambition emits a sense of classic aspirations, yet the execution falls significantly short of that. Is my appetite whetted? Hell no. I want more. Let’s hope Kanye’s sixth LP expounds upon the concepts here and, another slump barring, delivers a true classic. Is it possible? Yea, but for now, it’s just a fantasy.