Thursday, December 4, 2008

808s & Heartbreak

Here’s what I have to say about Kanye West’s much discussed new album, 808s & Heartbreak. First off, it’s brave. He hasn’t just changed sounds — gone are the brilliant samples and sped-up vocals that marked his first three highly successful records — he’s created a wholly new one: sparse, synth-heavy and full of that dreaded Auto-Tune. Hate it or love it, you can’t say Kanye has played it safe. And it’s hard to even say he’s a rapper any longer. The few verses on 808s & Heartbreak are provided by other rappers (Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne) — Kanye’s mainly here as a brokenhearted singer (laugh if you must), one with a decidedly emo bent. In an interview with BBC’s Zane Lowe, he admitted to being influenced vocally by the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis, something you can hear in the terrific “Amazing.” In fact, what I find amazing, about that track in particular, is West has placed himself, impossibly, at the centrepoint between such disparate acts as Radiohead, Fall Out Boy and 50 Cent. I hear them all, and he listens to them all — in a widely reported recent quote, Kanye confessed to listening mostly to Feist and Thom Yorke when he’s chilling in his apartment. No wonder he’s trying to be this generation’s Michael Jackson, an artist that not only bridged audiences but united them as well. But the Jacko comparison has always felt forced to me. I think of Kanye more as a new Stevie Wonder, a musical genius (thanks Eddie Murphy) who, during a fabled five-album period in the ’70s, simply could do no wrong. Kanye’s first three albums were of an equally high quality and consistency. Heartbreak continues the streak, but with qualifications. The new, raw sound is the product of not only the personal heartbreaks in his life (mom dying, fiancée splitting), but also from the doozy of a fame hangover he suffered post-Graduation. There are some good (“RoboCop,” “Heartless”), even great (“Street Lights,” “Coldest Winter”) songs here, but it’s nowhere near as enjoyable an experience as records past, especially Graduation and its unbridled celebration of reaching the top. On 808s & Heartbreak, Kanye falls down. But that’s okay, because as he once sung, we all fall down. A-
Kanye West (ft. Young Jeezy): Amazing (mp3) (buy)
Kanye West: Coldest Winter (mp3) (buy)

1 comment:

Creatively said...

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