Review Summary: 'Watch the Throne' isn't as colossal as it should be.
‘Watch the Throne’ isn’t as colossal as it should be.
It’s vast, cohesive and oddly complicated – it’s an ambitious effort, and it almost pays off. Really though, it strays from charming, playful boastfulness into distasteful arrogance. They’re great and they know it, and that’s fine; but the duo mess up the formula. Sleazy elitism doesn’t give ‘Watch the Throne’ magnitude; rather, it restricts it.
That isn’t to say it’s a bad album. It exhibits remarkable range while remaining organized – it’s diverse without being messy. ‘Watch the Throne’ is never a boring listen; Kanye and Jigga juggle tones wonderfully, confidently swapping the might of ‘Otis’ for murky, hypnotic grooves – I’m talking ‘New Day’ and ‘That’s My Bitch’. Stirring, eerie overtones permeate the record, and to be fair to ‘the Throne’ it’s not a simple album; when I recount their triumphs I feel a bit unforgiving. The production’s on an epic scale – Ye’ enlists veteran producers for gloriously orchestral backings. They only ruin it when they open their mouths.
The two shoot for a classic album, but misunderstand what’s needed. Frankly, insisting you’re magnificent isn’t enough. It’s an unsophisticated record, lacking the poised professionalism of ‘Reasonable Doubt’. It might sound pretentious, but great albums should spark cultural movement. ‘Watch the Throne’ does the opposite; it embodies the ruthless capitalism hip hop’s attacked since Flava Flav got his first pocket watch. (Actually, Chuck D responded to ‘Otis’ – check it out.) For Kanye, it marks a descent from charming jauntiness; remember “Ralph Lauren was borin’ before I wore him”" Confidence is cool; snobbery isn’t.
There are some real lowlights. RZA’s enlisted on ‘New Day’, and the guy’s a genius, but they sure murder Nina Simone. Having said this, there are redemptive moments: Hov gets contemplative every now and again
“I’m trying to lead a nation, to leave to my little man’s,
Or my daughter, so I’m boiling this water,
The scales was lopsided, I’m just restoring order.”
‘Watch the Throne’ is a ridiculous title, but Kanye and Jay-Z can do ridiculous; OTT vanity is what they do, and in ways the record’s cocksure and majestic. Strange thing is, it’s their strive for magnificence that strips them of their chance.