Review Summary: Inconsistent.
It's an interesting thing to see Kanye West do something so counterintuitive to what he evidenced on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
: the songs on his 2010 effort had a sense of motion. It was a poppy album, sure, but it was less predictable or formulaic as much as it was instinctive. It knew where to put hooks, where to drift in and out of the framework, and most importantly where it needed to go emotionally at any given time, whether it was to depress its musical density or expand into booming choruses or hype verses or whatever. I'm not saying that Kanye doesn't know where to take a song, which is exactly the problem with Yeezus
: it doesn't go where Kanye seems to know it's supposed to go.
Take "I'm in It" for instance. The combination of Assassin and Justin Vernon--a powerful, visceral, beautiful contrast--peaks halfway through the song and comes right back down to where the song started: nowhere. It's like half the song is the outro. "New Slaves" is the same: it builds itself up, knocks down the whole structure like a game of Jenga with that awful "dick than a swallower" hook, and then realises it was doing the right thing beforehand and rushes into back into its monumental second verse, trying to pretend like nothing had happened even though the momentum has already been pulled from under its feet. Like I said, it seems kind of counterintuitive that Kanye keeps f**king up crucial points on the album even though he's on point at many individual moments, but at least half the songs on Yeezus
feel rushed, carelessly constructed, and rampant with honest-to-God mistakes
. It's ridiculous that the worst thing about this album is that there are mistakes
on it; they're like mistakes in Yeezy's maths working, like he screwed up one line of his equation and it sends the answer into the s**tter even though the rest of his method is technically correct. Unlike school, marks are not given for working. What the song does as a whole is important, and if it hasn't arrived at a satisfying conclusion, it may as well have not done anything at all.
Having said that, several of the songs on Yeezus
do come to a satisfying conclusion: "On Sight", "Black Skinhead", "Hold My Liquor" and "Bound 2" work. It's because they feel fully realised: rather than simply recycling earlier sonic motifs in an effort to keep things "minimal", they build off them subtly. "Black Skinhead" is the perfect example: it does basically the exact same thing twice--intro, verse, chorus, intro, verse, chorus--and with basically the exact same instrumentation. However, can you really say that the second verse of the song is at all
the same as the first verse? Instrumentally, yes, but aesthetically and emotionally, it's completely different. It's herein that Kanye taps the true meaning of minimalism: however much you may use the same musical idea again and again and again in a song, it's never "the same" for the entire piece. He takes this to heart for a good half of the album, and it clicks.
Too bad the other half of the album is dogcrap. Altogether, once "Bound 2" has left you behind, looking back on Yeezus
is like that moment in Kung Fu Panda
when Po collapses on the stairs in exhaustion, only to realise he's barely walked up them at all. For its forty minute length, more than enough time to fill with great moments, Yeezus
has travelled almost nowhere. It's ten songs that don't really stick together as an album because the album's flow is interrupted so very often with hiccups that ruin otherwise solid songs. And individually, even the worst songs aren't too bad, but Yeezus
as an album trips over too many times and tries to get back up and make it to the finish line. It gets there eventually, but the gratitude of the listener has left long ago.