Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy


RIYL: Jay-Z, Kid Cudi, Lupe Fiasco

In these days of PR flacks and image groomers, the era of the divisive, unpredictable pop star is almost a distant memory – now that we’re living in a world of infinite niche audiences, conventional wisdom says the only safe bet is to try and be all things to all people. But then there’s Kanye West, a guy whose propensity for water cooler-worthy gaffes seems to grow along with his sales; one of the few true stars left in the music industry, he’s also one of the least “managed” celebrities around, and while his actions have a tendency to alienate and offend, there’s something undeniably refreshing about a guy who blurts out whatever’s on his mind.

As an artist, West has always been just as messy – and just as captivating. It’s a shame that some people will never listen to his albums simply because of the things he’s said and done outside the recording studio, but part of his music’s appeal is how unfiltered it feels – the dude just can’t shut his mouth. In fact, for most of his fifth studio outing, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he sounds so blanketed in creative impulses that he can barely breathe – this is a record that careens from one emotional extreme to the next with dazzling urgency, so stuffed with ideas that it takes an army of guest stars and a series of wildly inflated running times to get them all out. On paper, it’s an ungodly, unwieldy mess, and further proof that West desperately needs an editor.

But through the speakers – where it counts – Fantasy lives up to each of the words in its title in equal measure: it’s a startlingly rich artistic outburst from a guy who’s made a career out of exceeding expectations, no matter how high they get. An about-face from 2008’s cold, insular 808s & Heartbreak, it signals a return to the anthemic, eclectic form he displayed on 2007’s Graduation, but it isn’t a retreat; rather, it’s a deepening and an extension of West’s playfully broad aesthetic. An album that incorporates a King Crimson sample, Bon Iver cameos, and a Chris Rock skit before closing with a dose of Gil Scott-Heron shouldn’t work; a song featuring Rihanna on the hook, Elton John playing piano, and Fergie rapping should collapse under the weight of its own ridiculous ambition. Fantasy contains all these things and many more, and defies the laws of pop physics as it goes – it’s the kind of record that keeps the ideas coming so quickly you don’t even notice the songs routinely stretch out past the five-minute mark. (In fact, four songs clock in over six minutes, with “Runaway” leading them all at 9:08.)

If there’s any real negative to draw from Fantasy, it’s the overriding sense that West is frantically pouring out ideas as quickly as they come; he’s too captivated by his muse to slow down – or to consider the consequences of failure. He won’t be able to maintain this pace forever, and when he finally does take a breath, it might be hard to resist the urge to think before he speaks. That’s just nervous nitpicking, though – and there’s no reason to waste your time with it when one of the best albums of the year is waiting to swagger its way into your brain. God only knows how West will top this one; here’s hoping it isn’t long before we get to hear him try. (Roc-a-Fella 2010)

Kanye West MySpace page

  

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