Review Summary: Yeezus shouldn't be faulted for its ambition- but instead, should be faulted for its lazy attempt at ambition.
Kanye West has always been meticulous. In 2003, when The College Dropout
leaked a few months ahead of schedule, he didn’t panic- but instead used it as an opportunity to fine-tune the album’s nuances and tighten its lavish production. When Kanye was 75 percent of the way finished with the anticipated follow-up Late Registration
, he decided to bring in producer Jon Brion to help expand the album’s sonic template- and indeed, the additional orchestral arrangements helped elevate the record’s depth and complexity. While My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
was largely produced by those other than West himself, his influence was evident in nearly every facet of the record, complete with sporadic touches of autotune, soulful production, and of course the bombastic egotism we have come to expect from a Kanye West album.
is the darkest of West’s albums so far, and others will also cite it has his most “challenging” or “ambitious.” There is certainly an emphasis on a more serious tone this time around, evident right from the get-go with opener “On Sight,” where a tinny, grating synth-driven beat that sounds like it was produced on Fruity Loops (courtesy of Daft Punk) fails to provide a worthy backdrop for West’s aggressive lyrical approach. In the center of the track, West raps “How much do I not give a ***?/Let me show you right now 'fore you give it up” before the song briefly explodes into an immaculately produced soul-sample for just a brief few seconds. The implication here is that West truly doesn’t care about the expectations his fans have for him, he’s looking to be daring, innovative, and challenging.
At times, however, Kanye’s idea of challenging the listener plays out like a one-note gimmick and a slap in the face to the long faithful. Yeezus’
recipe for complexity isn’t reliant on controversial statements or even sonic ambition. On “I Am a God,” a lazy bass-heavy beat finds Kanye demanding his croissants and proclaiming (over-and-over again) that he is, indeed, a god. Toward the track’s conclusion, the song throws in vocal-samples of screaming women, which is likely Kanye’s attempt at giving the song an art-house inspired aesthetic. “Hold My Liquor” is a dull and thematically weak auto-tune heavy track, and West’s verses are equally lifeless and uninspired. “I’m In It” and “Send It Up” are two more sonically “challenging” tracks that prove particularly irritating.
is not some tragic misfire or failure. At times, West’s sonic ambitions align with a desire to actually say something of worth, like on the politically charged tracks “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves.” “New Slaves” in particular opens with the lines, “my momma was raised in an era when/ clean water was only served to the fairer skin.” West’s delivery is forceful and chilling- where on past records he had danced around serious thematic material with his sharp wit, he now seems fed up and willing to lay it all out on the table in as direct a fashion as possible. Both tracks also feature a minimalist beat that serves to highlight West’s vocals and message in a way much of the album fails to do. Elsewhere, the six minute track “Blood on the Leaves” is the auto-tune epic that Kanye has always been striving to make, as blaring horns and sampled vocals inspire one of the album’s most exciting moments.
It is precisely these moments on the record where things fall perfectly into place that expose the majority of the album as relatively inept. Kanye’s attempts to be daring and complex feel unusually cheap, particularly from an artist with so many ambitious works in their canon. Kanye has nothing to prove, and perhaps that’s where Yeezus
goes wrong. It has been said that much of the album was recorded in a two-hour session where Kanye was rushing to finish the record. West has always been ambitious- only this time, Yeezus
feels like an album lacking the obsessive attention to detail present in its predecessors.