Friday, December 24, 2010

Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

I did this last year with a couple of albums, so I thought I would bring back the tradition.  Last year I chose a couple of albums that got a ton of terrific reviews, but that I just didn't seem to "get" (Phoenix's Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and The Avett Brothers' I And Love And You).
This year, I will talk about Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Pitchfork gave it a 10.0/10.0 (#1 on album of the year list).
Rolling Stone gave it 5/5 (#1 on album of the year list).
Spin gave it a 9/10 (#1 on album of the year list).
It was the top-ranked new album on Metacritic, getting a 93/100 (in case you don't know, Metacritic takes the scores of hundreds of reviews, then gives them a ranking based on those reviews.  Basically, it's like Rotten Tomatoes).
Even Paste, one of my favorite publications, gave it a 9.4/10 (#4 on album of the year list).

I could go on and on, but you get the point.  After suffering a wave terrible reviews for 808's and Heartbreak, the public seems to love Kanye again.  They're calling this album "brilliant", "a new wave of hip-hop", "a genius' masterwork", and other such things.
The nicest thing I can say about this album is "extremely uneven".
I won't deny that there is some great production on this album.  There are a couple tracks on here that could rank among my favorite Kanye tracks.  But there are also a couple that could rank among my least favorite, too.
Let's start at the beginning.
The album kicks off with Nicki Minaj's faux-British accent on "Dark Fantasy".  Eventually the chorus kicks in, and it reemerges throughout the song.  It really is a terrific chorus, and, while I didn't love it the first time I listened to it, it really started to grow on me with repeated listens.  It's a slow track, and a little long (it's under 5 minutes, but it still feels like it drags on for a bit long).
The next track ("Gorgeous") is decent.  Not great, but not terrible, either.  It actually works pretty well between "Dark Fantasy" and the third track, "Power".  The production on "Power" is great, starting off with handclaps and stomps before eventually kicking in with everything else.  When the bass drums kicks in, you can feel the room shake.  It's a terrific song...but even this song has its problems.  Kanye has never been a great rapper, and it shows again here, with bad lyrics rapped extremely clumsily (the lyric, "I was drinkin' earlier, now I'm drivin'" never fails to make me cringe).
After "Power" comes "All of the Lights", a massive song, featuring a hook sung by Rihanna, and guest spots by Nicki Minaj, Kid Cudi, and about 12 others.  With the building horns, Rihanna's voice, and some psycho bongos, this track really is amazing.  You won't be able to get it out of your head for days.
Then comes "Monster", which is my favorite track on the album, and quite possibly my favorite Kanye track.  It features Bon Iver, Rick Ross, Jay-Z, and Nicki Minaj (Nicki kills her verse...far and away the best moment on the album).  It's kind of an odd song...dark and driven and angry.  It's almost as if there actually is a monster, lurking somewhere in the background.

At this point, the albums falls off.  I like the production of "Runaway", but I hate the chorus (almost as much as I hate Kanye trying to sing the chorus), and the song eventually ends in about 3 minutes of Kanye talking through some heavy autotune (the song itself is 9 minutes long).  "Blame Game" is not a terrible song, but it ends with about 2 minutes of Chris Rock doing a terrible phone skit (the song itself is close to 8 minutes long).  "Lost in the World" (featuring a sample of Bon Iver's "Woods") is not bad, but it's a bit long, and there's really not much to it.
"Hell of a Life", "Devil in a Red Dress", and "So Appalled" are terrible.  Of all the times I've listened to this album, I think I have only made it through each track once.

So, a little summary.  The album has 13 tracks.  I like tracks 1-6 pretty well (with one of those being a one-minute interlude to "All of the Lights", so it barely counts), and parts of 2 others ("Runaway" and "Lost in the World").  Everything else is either forgettable, or something I wish I could forget.
So, what it boils down to is this: I like about half the album, and it's the first half.  After "Monster", I could just shut off the album, forget about the last half, and never have any regrets.
For that, I guess I can thank Kanye.
Thank you for putting all the songs worth listening to in the first half of the album.  I have no reason to ever venture past track 6.  If you had mixed in the good songs with the bad songs, I would have to do a lot of skipping.  As it is, I don't have to do that.  Thank you for saving me time.

If you like Kanye, give it a listen.  But, if you feel the urge to shut it off around the halfway point, you can do so in the knowledge that you've heard all the best tracks.

Rating: 2/5
Favorite track: "Monster"

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