Review: Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

If Kid Cudi is Goya (see the prior review), who’s Kanye? Can he even be encapsulated and compared? Monday was more a pre-emptive strike on music than any before, threatening to upend Top 10s of 2010 lists coast to coast. Yet what is My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? If Yeezy dropped out, then graduated into heartbreak, where’s his head at now? Welcome to the indistinguishable haze of inquiry and inquisition on someone more vocal in a 160 characters than during the lifetime of your own voice.

Without delving deep into details, Kanye is steering towards the abstract and glorified with the album to the point he removed all stops in evoking the Renaissance (as if he needed one) and Gauguin exoticism. The only thing more abstract is the official album art, void of arms, winged and disfigured. So, where can we place West now that he’s all over the map? In Auvers-sur-Oise painting fields and crows? Or stuck somewhere between May and June in ’73?

“And I always find something wrong. You’ve been putting up with my shit just way too long. I’m so gifted at finding what I don’t like the most. So I think it’s time for us to have a toast.”

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a convoluted diptych with one side emphasizing Yeezy’s brash introspection. The main problem with the album is you cannot be convinced it’s reality or fiction. “Runaway”, introduced during the VMAs, exemplifies a consuming depression with its dejected piano with a frank lyrical abyss; “Never much of a romantic. I could never take the intimacy…” Unlike 808s & Heartbreak, Yeezy lets this consumption take over the music as, despite distorted auto-tune [edit: vocoder], the piano and subdued orchestral strings march on without end as if even the notes lost themselves in “Runaway”‘s melancholia.

The tone precedes itself with “All of the Lights” and its interlude. Violin and piano create an intermission, unlike you would expect in the genre, that sets the stage perfectly for the actual track. Trumpets and Rihanna herald a song heavy in a radio friendly dance beat contrary to Kanye’s content. Kanye creates the ornate, luminous gold-leafed frame of domestic troubles and legal guardianship litigation but unfortunately Fergie’s verse is a spike strip blowing out the tires to the song. Sexuality is at the center of this side of the album also with the likes of “Hell of a Life” and “Blame Game”. The former treating the fantasy of marrying a porn star and divorcing at the end of the night. Its distorted fuzz leaving nothing soft to the blunt lyrical delivery. He’d truly tread into Henry Miller territory had he not create the nearly eight minute gem of “Blame Game” with John Legend (who gives the sweetest singing ever of “mother fucker” and “bitch”) and Chris Rock.

People are raging over “Monster” and “Power”, but the track is pure genius-and I use that term sparingly. The piano and bass over a pre-recorded, cracking and dragging snare and subdued tambourine provide a brilliant basis over a gracefully unhealthy tale. Legend raises it with arguably the best vocal contribution on the album, but the first pivotal point comes from sheer production. Voices come at you from three separate, distinct areas, indicating multiple personalities taunting Yeezy over the now hauntingly elegant “Blame Game”. It shocks the attention, pulling you into Kanye West as he preaches the next verse before Mr. Legend lulls you into thinking everything will be just fine despite string-laced “I can’t love you this much” repetitions. Five minutes in, West lets the lights dim, leaving him shrouded in a glow from above with dark obscurity during Chris Rock’s stunningly explicit phone-like performance. Normally you’d want to laugh for sheer past knowledge of Rock, but it’s reduced to silence and uneasy, unsure chuckles that seem involuntarily forced in the halo-effect Legend and Yeezy lull. The strings and piano unfazed.

The second half of the twisted diptych treats his celebrity directly over Nicki Minaj’s intro with “Gorgeous”. Hallowed out and surrounded by Cudi’s stereo choruses, it throws a wrench to listeners wondering where Yeezy is going with producing his voice after 808s. Immediately after, “Power” and its choir, claps and King Crimson sample honestly throw the gleaming, finely tuned train off the bridge into a ravine below. As a single, it works (and I loved it), but after G.O.O.D. Fridays, it feels out of place where it’s tracked between “Gorgeous” and “All of the Lights”. The poor placement really prevents me from becoming engrossed. (Between “Devil in a New Dress” and “Runaway” would have been one better option.)

The addition of Bon Iver shocked the indie community, who subsequently bemoaned the all-to-brief appearance on “Monster” earlier this fall. His auto-tuned announcement left this crowd hushed, then allowed Minaj to steal the stage. Yet Iver served as John Legend did, framing and lending a lushness that was unachievable by any other collaborator on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Surprisingly, Kanye samples his “Woods” off Blood Bank and clearly makes the song his own. Sorry Wisconsin, but Illinois is taking more than your high speed rail funds as Yeezy wraps his production around the digitally unearthly song. It’s harmonious choruses and drums, which elicit the percussive barrage behind “Love Lockdown”‘s unveiling, is celebratory as if he’s embracing a chaos that is giving his life of pandemonium meaning.

The more you listen to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the less you seem to understand Kanye and what he plans to do next. The melange of exaggeration and sincerity make the album nonetheless as controversial as the album art, and you can’t quite tell where his mind. This album is more loose and confounded than anything in his discography. Perhaps unpredictability is his newfound genius. With a $3 million spent, you can only imply West calculated each and every move to the flats of a penny and sharps of those crisp new bills this is racking in. Given art has been the sole overarching theme since the beginning, what you end up with is a contorted fantasy with a Degas elegance hiding Francis Bacon horrorsunderneath.

Rating: 9.2/10

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Founder, Editor, Writer, Photographer. (Austin, Texas)

Founder, Editor, Writer, Photographer. (Austin, Texas)

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