Saturday, November 27, 2010

Review: Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

By any reasonable measure, Kanye West has done his penance for whatever injustice he inflicted upon Taylor Swift many moons ago. He removed himself from the equation to come to terms with it, and patiently answered questions about it in every interview request he has granted since (except for Matt Lauer). These days, even the most catastrophic events fade from view within a week, yet Kanye's stage crashing over a year ago continues to occupy front and center in the public consciousness. As the months passed and the topic continued to simmer, it became clear that only Kanye himself could change the conversation. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy success has turned the page, while shedding some light on what spurred the outburst to begin with.

When Kanye joined Twitter in July, he instantly became one of its most captivating voices, sharing glimpses into his life of fashion shows, private jets and tantrums. Twitter became an extension of his persona, one that provided virtually instant praise and criticism for every tweet. Alluring? Certainly, but perhaps not the best venue for someone with such a fragile psyche. Despite this, he thrived, and found a more than willing contingent of fans who relished his every move and looked forward to his G.O.O.D. Friday releases like Christmas morning (myself included). In the wake of the Taylor Swift news-cycle, I expected Kanye to come back with the familiar celebrity idiom, the hail mary for stars who prove their fallibility; the I-am-not-a-role-model defense. He didn't, and MBDTF is all the better for this.

I don't usually preface reviews with a two-paragraph refresher of an artist, but in Kanye's case, I think it is warranted. There's a fine line between asshole and assured, and it's hypocritical for us to expect this swagger in his music and expect it not to bleed into his personal life. From the very first note on MBDTF, we see a Kanye who is keenly aware of his shortcomings and the repercussions of them. He drowns sorrows in alcohol and takes pills, he talks about night terrors one line and a Lamborghini Murcielago the next. And it would all be depressing if it weren't so beautiful. The following songs find every facet of his character amplified to deafening levels. He is incredulous on Gorgeous, destitute on All of the Lights, defiant on Monster and remorseful on Blame Game. The production mirrors this from song to song, opting for rising strings or an chopped electric guitar riff when the song calls for it. Take the 9-minute "Runaway" as Exhibit A. A lonely piano plinks a single note for 20 seconds before Kanye pulls the trigger and the song explodes with bass and synths. At the song's close, Kanye autotunes his voice past the point of coherence, his words transformed to indecipherable digital moans that is as arresting as his sharpest words.

Before MBDTF, I had never wholly "loved" a Kanye West album. While each had their high points, each also felt incomplete and superficial, the work of a fascinating artist who had yet to figure himself out. The events of the past year introduced humility to Kanye's vocabulary, but also served to sharpen his edge and enhance his bravado. Lesser artists would likely have dropped out of music forever (or worse), but Kanye emerged on the other side, hungrier and more determined than he had ever been and created the most complete and captivating work of his career. Congratulations Kanye, you've earned yourself another chance. Don't ever change.

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