Thursday, November 25, 2010

Kanye West, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"

A few disclosures: I don't listen to a whole lot of hip-hop, and won't pretend to have any clue what might constitute a five-star hip-hop album in 2010. Despite the complaints about this album being an overly long, egotistical sprawling mess, I have yet to hear the entire thing in one sitting. My copy is a "clean" version. I still haven't seen the "Runaway" mini-movie, this is in fact my first exposure to any of the music on the album (I didn't see the VMA's or his SNL appearance).

So I haven't done any homework before spouting off about Kanye's latest album, but it can be interesting to approach a new album with a nearly blank slate, and besides, who can resist commenting on arguably the year's most anticipated, most talked about album? The hype is so huge that in some circles, the reviews are generating nearly as much discussion as the music itself -- it's earned a 10.0 from Pitchfork (their first perfect score for a new album in ages) and 10/10 from Popmatters (only for them to turn around and publish a second review the very next day -- this time a 7/10.

Many albums contain mostly 3-5 minute tracks but somewhere in the middle there's a sprawling, epic, 7-8 minute track that stands apart as the album's "centrepiece". This album is no exception ... except that there are about five or six of those types of tracks. IN A ROW. In a number of different styles, i.e. "Monster" (multi-guest clusterfuck, yes, that's a compliment), "Devil in a New Dress" (70's soul), and "Runaway" (nine minute prog-rap confessional, complete with vocoder). Best of all is "So Appalled", whose backing track could nearly stand-in for the dark, murky electro-pop from Depeche Mode's "Ultra".

The beginning of the album is fairly unremarkable, in fact, if this album is bloated, I blame it on the shorter tracks. The album doesn't really pick up until "All the Lights" and its audacious orchestral intro, and from then on it's almost nothing but long running times and the kind of hyper-personal, self-deprecating kitchen sink drama that Kanye West seems to revel in these days (not that I'm complaining, it takes a genius to spill your personal life onto your music without coming across as an indulgent whiner. Kanye isn't afraid to walk that line and he walks it well).

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