Music review: Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Posted: November 26, 2010 in Album Reviews

Say what you want about Kanye West, but he’s far from boring or predictable.
His super-inflated ego is both a gift and a curse, pushing him to strive for perfection in his art but often blinding him from reality or any sense of decorum. He often spouts off like a petulant child on Twitter, ripping into anyone who dare has something negative to say about him. He storms award shows and yanks trophies from rising starlets’ hands, and then claims to be misunderstood later on. He apologizes for his acts, then retracts the apologies. He seems to care a great deal about the human condition and often writes spiritual songs referencing Jesus, yet can’t relate to people very well.
All of this and more make West one of the more compelling musical figures of the last decade, if not the most. And with his latest release, the sprawling, brilliant My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West has all sides of his personality on display, both in his lyrics and the painstakingly crafted music.
You can tell West wanted to hit a home run here, and he delivers a grand slam of stylistic detours and grand gestures.
He brings in a virtual who’s who of popular music in as guests, including mentors Jay-Z and the RZA, newcomers Nikki Minaj and Drake, soul singers like John Legend, leading lady megastars Rihanna and Fergie, and Rock N Roll Hall of Famer Elton John. And those are just naming a few.
On one track alone (All of the Lights), 42 guest musicians/singers appear, and while the song has layers upon layers, it works beautifully.
Kanye, while still not the best MC on the planet, has improved with each release and his production mastery is now legendary.
He wanted a grandiose statement, something that could help describe his complex and contradictory personality to the masses. So what you get is a concept album dealing with his innermost desires and fears mixed with the usual bravado one routinely finds on rap albums.
The difference between Kanye and many other MCs (other than his innate musical and production gifts) is the genuine belief that what he’s saying is coming from the heart.
The album’s masterpiece “Runaway” is a nine-minute voyage of heartache and self-loathing, as the “douche bags, assholes and jerk-offs” he’s toasting represent what many Americans feel about him after the Taylor Swift fiasco. The track starts with a single piano key (much like Pink Floyd’s classic epic Echoes) and then evolves into a solemn ballad before taking a detour near the six-minute mark where it becomes a rap symphony, where the only words Kanye says are filtered through a vocoder and guitar, only becoming decipherable at the very end of the track. It’s mesmerizing and sends chills down the spine with its emotional undercurrent.
Another highlight is “Monster”, where Jay-Z and Minaj turn in awesome guest verses over a bass-heavy beat that shook my rear-view mirror in my car as I played it.
Lead single “Power” brilliantly samples King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” and is another track dealing with West’s titanic ego yet fragile persona, as the very end West sings of a “beautiful death” and “jumping out the window.”
“Devil With a New Dress” easily could have come off The College Dropout or Late Registration with its gorgeous old-school soul feel.
The last two tracks “Lost in the World” and “Who Will Survive in America” paint West’s picture of alienation well. And while the beat and melody of “World” is tremendous, the message paints a stark reality of American life today.
This “Fantasy” is the real work of a tortured genius at the top of his game, as West redeems himself from the Autotuned to death “808s and Heartbreak”. It consolidates his strengths wonderfully, and leaves the listener wondering what he’ll come up with next.

Sod rating: *****

Kanye West discography
The College Dropout (2004) **** 1/2
Late Registration (2005) **** 1/2
Graduation (2007) ****
808s and Heartbreak (2008) ** 1/2

Ratings system
***** A classic
**** Excellent
*** Solid
** A good song or two
* A movie starring Alan Thicke, Pauly Shore and Charles Grodin would be a better use of your time

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