Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review: Kanye West- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Rating: 10.0
Released: Nov. 22, 2010

Of course you hate this guy.

Is any major pop artist more grandiose, bewildering, or oddly sensitive right now?

Would anyone else think to make a 30-minute music video with a cameo from a giant Michael Jackson head?

Does any other artist think that indie-folkster Bon Iver belongs on the same track with rap legend Jay-Z?

Does any other musician describe himself as being akin to that guy standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square? I couldn't make that last one up if I tried.

This guy was made for head-scratching, unapologetically insane moments even before he stormed the stage in Taylor Swift's big moment, but I'm reminded of an old saying about being crazy like a fox.

Kanye wears his lunacy like it's a badge, and he's likely made one of the best and most insane rap albums you'll ever hear in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

Over the course of 13 songs, thankfully whittled down from hour upon hour of studio tinkering, West reminds us of all the hip hop formulas he has burnished to solid gold over the past decade, and then he demolishes them with a missile launcher.

Fuzz guitar? A vocoder solo? An Elton John piano solo? No one else would be this ambitious or ludicrously wide-screen, and we're all richer for it.

"They say I was the abomination of Obama's nation, well that's a pretty bad way to start the conversation," West raps in his characteristically self-conscious drawl on the King Crimson-ripping "Power."

Like the best self-absorbed pop stars who have come before him, West inflates his own importance on "Power." Thoughts of a "beautiful death" crowd his head in the unforgettably morbid coda to "Power."

No doubt he believes all of our lives and album collections would be so much more drab if he did take a dirt nap. I believe him.

"Power" is just one of many tracks on this album that take the minimalism of hip hop classics like Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt and replace it with clattering drums, tinkling pianos, fuzzy guitars, soaring horns, musical interludes and choirs.

The world-beating "All of the Lights" makes its hero a deadbeat loser who could be bouncing checks at the power company. The super-rich West, who is probably all done with threats from utility companies, inhabits the role with spite, regret and a beating heart.

"Restraining order/can't see my daughter/her mother, brother, grandmother hate me in that order/public visitation/we met at Border's/Told her she take me back I'll be more supportive," West spits at all of the doubters.

Where other rap stars play up their lower-class roots for credibility, West inhabits his character fully, making an epic for all of the underdogs. Oh, did I mention the beat is intoxicating?

Throughout the album, West raises the bar, and then raises it higher, birthing the disturbed younger sibling to his previous outstanding albums.

On "Lost in the World," all notions of formulaic hip hop are incinerated as he turns a distorted Bon Iver dirge into a stomping finale, complete with tribal drums, chants and a spoken rant from the ever-acerbic Gil Scott-Heron.

"You're my devil, you're my angel/you're my heaven, you're my hell/you're my now, you're my forever/you're my freedom, you're my jail," he raps.

West has been this intimate before - see his desperate, difficult previous LP 808s and Heartbreak - but he's rarely been this convincing and brilliant.

Hate him if you want to, but West is redefining what it means to be a rap star, pop star, celebrity, you name it. Refreshingly, he emphasizes the 'artist' part of 'rap artist.'

Based on his previous output as a producer for rap bigwigs like Jay-Z (face it, The Blueprint falls short of classic without Kanye's contributions), Common and Talib Kweli, it's easy to see that West was staking a claim as the greatest hip hop producer ever.

But if West keeps making albums like this, it's not farfetched to say he's ascending the ranks of the best rap stars ever.