Review Summary: For all I know, Kanye is well on his way in becoming a Patrick Bateman.
Allow me to start this review in a similarly boisterous manner to that of “Dark Fantasy” (the first track on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”
) by stating that this is
hip-hop’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
; a collaboration of influences and instrumental elements that have remained scarce to the genre, pulled off in an amazingly professional and well constructed manner. And now, allow me to retract from the towering expectations and supposed praise I have planned for this album, as I must admit that Kanye’s “magnum opus” has been caught up in romanticized sensationalism. I can’t help but feel that much of the album’s weight is mere “fluff” attached to his public image. The meme propelled Taylor Swift incident, the Southpark lampooning, media scandals and shenanigans; these have all contributed to the great rise and fall and inevitable rise again of the king of mainstream hip-hop. The music community was ushered into two separate camps in lea of this album‘s release; those who will continue to discredit his work due to his reigning title of “Douche Bag of the Year”, and those who expected the artist to blossom in the face of opposition. Therefore, the hype is understandable, seeing as this is the hip-hop album that non hip-hop fans have always wanted to hear for decades
“Can we get much higher?”
is a rhetorical question, because never before has rap sounded this epic
. There is an equal amount of actual instrumentation and sampling on this album, with the instrumental work (credited to forty four
people) pulled off in an absolutely brilliant manner (at least, brilliant for a hip-hop album). There is a particular attention to layers and variety that Kanye practiced on KiD CuDi’s “hipster-hop” excursions which are perfected on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”
; fuzzed guitars, strings, horns, swirling synths, eclectic percussion, piano…ya know, the works. However, there is one blatant quality of this record that prevents me from loving it the way I should, and that element is none other than Kanye himself.
"Now this will be a beautiful death, I'm jumpin' out the window"
. There is a clear dichotomy in the lyrics which shift back and fourth between egotistical pandering the likes of which outclass Kanye’s previous work, and the somewhat vulnerable and romanticized epiphanies that add a human touch to a genre of music seriously lacking it. Despite this, he also continues to trump all others in the department of phallus waving, the likes of which I find hard to stomach without rolling my eyes. It’s a sour quality that seeps through even into his voice and his flow which are the most important tool in any rapper’s arsenal. While I love what has been done here musically, and while I love the concept and ideals behind the album, it’s hard to fully enjoy this rap album when I can’t stand
the rap style of Kanye. However, when the album is good, it’s damn good
“Power” is a key component to this, and is ultimately, the heart of “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”
. The anthemic chanting, claps, strings, pounding drums, and even a sample of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” (as a prog lover, I was dumbstruck by this) all add up into a song that is better than the album itself. “Now I embody every characteristic of the egotistic”/”I’m an asshole?”
, at least the man is self-aware. The epic nature continues with “All of the Lights”, a battle charge of horns, rattling percussion, and classical strings. It’s an anthem of excess, ruined by the excess of Kanye’s rapping as you can hear the cockiness behind every line he spits. “Monster” is next, and comes off as the album’s most surprising moment. The tribal like stomp of percussion spins the revolving door of rappers, all of them carrying the refrain of “I’m a mother***ing monster”
. Even the prize goose of golden rap verses Nicki Minaj appears here, and though I’d hate to admit it, her portion is simply fantastic. She completely steals the show, with her trademark mood swing style of bitchiness. It leads one to believe the song itself was written specifically for her.
And as we reach the second half of the record we sense a gradual change in themes as the lyrics become more and more obsessed with failed relationships. Herein lies the most interesting aspect of this album. Even though no names are named, and even though Kanye continues to wear the mask of "King of Excess", one can assume that this all relates specifically to his recently failed relationship with model Amber Rose. It's almost as if he's afraid to admit that this is an album about heartbreak, and so, these moments of tenderness are sadly very brief. A perfect example of this sad fact being a snippet of the lyrics in "So Appalled" (a song that is, otherwise, boring and forgettable); "That was a little joke, viola"/"Baby I'm magic, tah-dah"
, spoken lazily, as if Kanye is bored and tired of the whole show he, and countless other rappers, put on for us.
"Run away from me baby...run away
, and so we come to "Runaway". If "Power" is the heart of "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"
, then "Runaway" is the soul. Clocking in at over nine minutes
, it's the only song on not harmed by the album's running tradition of uncharacteristically long song lengths. The last three minutes are dedicated to an extended coda of orchestral stabs, abrasive vocoder, and the wonderfully simple piano melody that runs throughout the song. The remainder of the album is shrouded in considerably weaker material. The garage-rock fuzz stomp of "Hell of a Life" is little more than just that
, and "Blame Game" (which samples Aphex Twin's "Avril 14th"; again, I was dumbstruck) runs on way
too long. "Lost in the World"/"Who Will Survive in America?" wrap up the album in a bittersweet manner. While the actual song "Lost in the World" is unremarkable, the use of Gil Scott-Heron's spoken word piece "Comment No. 1" as the end to the album is simply perfect.
"I can't love you this much..."
, this is Kanye's most sincere statement, held back by his own chauvinism. "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
" is id personified, it's one large amygdala covered in lesions and marinated in liquor. What could be an album of impeccable quality is dragged down by unjustified song lengths (I usually found myself uninterested in most of these songs within the last minute), too many inane lyrics, shameless bravado, and Kanye's average rapping. The fact remains though, that this is obviously an important album. I may not appreciate it as much as everybody else, but it truly is a landmark, and there aren't many other rap albums that justify such an analysis. While I find it hard to sympathize with this urban Great Gatsby, there are signs that if Kanye can refine his methods a bit more he will be capable of an album that is a masterpiece in both influence and quality. For now, I'll sit tight with the progressive hip-hop of "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"
and wait to see if it grows on me, or if Kanye releases something that trumps it. "Stick around, some real feelings might surface..."