Just another blog post about the new Kanye album
Background: not only am I fairly uneducated in hip-hop in general (something I feel I need to always mention on my hip-hop reviews so I don’t seem like someone who knows his stuff) but I was never really that keen on Kanye in the first place. It would be daft to question his talent as a producer but despite being one of the major music personalities of the 00’s, I always felt like his undeniable charisma was aimed somewhere as far away from me as possible, his rapping feeling awkward to my ears most of the time. Not to mention that wasting something as amazingly sampleworthy as Daft Punk into a half-arsed beat is always going to be a headshaking moment for him. But he’s got ambition and that’s always admirable. Out of the major league mainstream stars of the 00’s, he’s been one of the few who seem like he wants to evolve as an artist, do something new and grow himself musically no matter if it would backfire.
I’ve also always had a soft spot for ambitious albums. Musical entities where it seems like the artist in question wanted to prove his worth to the whole world, arrogantly taking the center stage with bombast and subsequently showing that they belong in that spotlight. Albums which throw everything that its creators have into them. I suppose My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was always destined to become something like that, because after the sudden and extremely contested sidestep of 808s & Heartbreak and the subsequent public controversies and growing bizarreness of his antics the expectations to actually deliver something more than just the curious ramblings of a troubled man were extremely high. Dark Twisted Fantasy was to be Kanye’s make it or break it moment in the public eye. And we’ve seen by now just what happened – one of the most praised albums of 2010, an already-fabled comeback, something that’s made nearly everyone squeal in excited giddiness. Kanye definitely made it. So strong in fact that even I have to join the party – I’m not about to hail it as the best thing of all time (OF ALL TIME!) and there’s albums in 2010 I’m fonder of, but there’s no denying that Dark Twisted Fantasy is one of the most impressive of the class of 2010 in its sheer ambition, scope and how it actually executes it all so well.
It’s why My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has found an unexpected home from my collection. It’s music that fires forward with all guns, music that accelerates to top speed as soon as it has started. When the screwball gangsta-Alice in Wonderland monologue introduction of “Dark Fantasy” closes and the sung chorus makes its first appearance, it’s obvious that the ride ahead is going to be intriguing and certainly stale isn’t a part of Kanye’s vocabulary here. A crazy rollercoaster ride of classic rock samples, vocoderified Bon Iver collaborations, massive pop hooks, 9-minute rap monsters that finish with an ingenius hybrid of guitar solo and filtered singing to the point it’s impossible to tell where one starts and another ends, and insanely ambitious beat productions unfold ahead and Kanye himself sounds like he’s partly in a confessional as he rants about everything that has happened in his crazy few years off and partly frontlining an army ready to take over the crown. Like the song states, it’s a monster. And not only that, it’s got some fantastic songwriting and production to it: particularly “Runaway” and “Lost in the World” deserve a spot in any sort of “best tracks of 2010” list, the former a stunning mixture of a self-degrading confessional and a fuck-you to all the haters, while the latter is the final song at the great ass party in the end of the world where everyone joins in.
Spotless album? No. It slips occasionally in various ways: “Devil in a New Dress” seems more like an afterthought rather than an integral part of the album, the bizarre vagina monologue that follows the quiet heartbreak rage of “Blame Game” is baffling in its inclusion and completely breaks the mood left from the main song itself, there’s the occasional lyrical cringe-step that not even Kanye’s new-found charisma can save, particularly when they’re done by some of the album’s guest features and “So Appalled” is particularly painful in this respect), and speaking of guest features the couple of Jay-Z spots on the album continue to confuse me as to how his physical embodiment of boring non-presence is supposed to be some sort of living legend at the top of the game. And other occasional dirty spots in an otherwise impressive cleaning job. There’s no game-breaking glitch-ups on the way but there’s enough to stop it from breaching the final defenses.
But there’s this to say: 2010 has been a very safe year for me. It’s brought me a lot of good albums, but most of those have been things I assumed to be good when I first heard signs of life from them and which then turned out to be good, whether because the preview songs told me so or because the artists had a great track record and it was unlikely for them to suddenly hit a wrong curve. It’s been a good year but not much of a one in terms of big standout albums. For an album that surpasses that barrier to come from a source as unlikely as a guy I’ve never really liked from a genre I don’t really pay much attention to is something rather interesting. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy sounds like it’s hell-bent to do something different and new and whisk off all the haters and likers alike. That’s just what it does. I don’t agree on the classic status that many are throwing it, but it’s definitely a 2010 landmark and something very, very interesting on the music scene.
And for the follow-up, please bring back the bear.