Album Review: Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella)
He's finally sorted his life out and is back on fine - if slightly odd - form, with a little help from his A-list friends
For better or worse, he’s also the pop star for our morally implicated times; an instinctive consumer with a mouthful of diamonds and furtive bad conscience, a performer who lives the American dream to its fullest with a creeping sense of the spiritual void at its heart.
‘[b]My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy[/b]’ captures that essence in full. It’s an utterly dazzling portrait of a 21st-century schizoid man that is by turns sickeningly egocentric, contrite, wise, stupid and self-mocking.
Reportedly a cool $3million in the making and with a stellar cast comprising the great and good of 2010’s musical establishment – plus [b]Fergie[/b] from [a]Black Eyed Peas[/a] – it’s an epically conceived song-suite, a titanic wrestling with music’s most colossal ego that effortlessly engages its hype as the most feverishly anticipated record of the year. It’s a world away from the indifferent reception afforded to ‘[b]808s & Heartbreak[/b]’, a brave but unloveable record of synth-drenched introspection dealing with [b]Kanye[/b]’s split from Alexis Phifer in 2008 and the tragic death of his mother, who died following cosmetic surgery.
‘[b]My Beautiful…[/b]’ kicks off proceedings with a suitable sense of what’s at stake here; a tense, string-laden affair with [b]Kanye[/b] musing how “[i]the plan was to drink until the pain was over/But what’s worse, the pain or the hangover?[/i]” There’s more trouble at hand with Kid Cudi collaboration ‘Gorgeous’’s slouching guitars but Kanye relocates his funny bone with lines like: “[i]This week has been a bad massage/I need a happy ending[/i]”.
Then the record’s first real moment of catharsis arrives in the shape of the gladiatorial ‘[b]Power[/b]’, whose tribal fanfare and supercharged lyric seems to imagine in advance Kanye’s warm welcome into heaven: “[i]I guess every superhero need his theme music[/i]”.
‘[b]All Of The Lights[/b]’ is the sleb-studded centrepiece, with a credit list including [a]Rihanna[/a], [a]Elton John[/a], [a]Alicia Keys[/a], [a]John Legend[/a], [a]The-Dream[/a], [b]Fergie[/b], [a]Kid Cudi[/a], [b]Ryan Leslie[/b], [b]Charlie Wilson[/b], [b]Tony Williams[/b] and [a]La Roux[/a]’s [b]Elly Jackson[/b]. In anyone else’s hands it’d be an A-list circle-jerk of horrid proportions, but through [b]Kanye[/b]’s bar-raising vision it becomes a truly wondrous thing, all Rocky-apeing brass flourishes and epileptic drum’n’bass breaks.
Elsewhere, ‘[b]Monster[/b]’ proves a riotous bit of respite, Yeezy sending up his rep with a self-mocking diatribe about drowning his pain in a blizzard of blow jobs and mass adulation (beats Prozac, we suppose) while [a]Nicki Minaj[/a] sets the dials to ‘ridiculous’ with a fire-breathing, raga-inflected verse.
Kanye raises a trip-hoppy toast to the douchebags of the world on ‘[b]Runaway[/b]’ – generously remembering to include himself – before finally squaring up to some uncomfortable home truths: “[i]Never was much of a romantic/I could never take the intimacy/And I know it did damage/’Cos the look in your eyes is killin’ me[/i]”.
But it’s ‘[b]Lost In The World[/b]’ that provides the heart-rending highlight, chasing down Yeezy’s soul past velvet ropes and jaded afterparties as [a]Bon Iver[/a]’s [b]Justin Vernon[/b] reprises an autotuned vocal from last year’s ‘[b]Blood Bank[/b]’ to quite brilliant effect. Segueing into a coda which samples [a]Gil Scott-Heron[/a]’s ‘[b]Comment #1[/b]’, it frames [b]Kanye[/b]’s inner demons in a universal way, recasting Vernon’s semi-mythical woodland retreat as his own cipher for spiritual replenishment.
If ‘[b]808s & Heatbreak[/b]’ was the wilderness period, then by extension ‘[b]My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy[/b]’ is [b]Kanye[/b]’s entry into Jerusalem, on a jet-propelled donkey with chrome-plated hooves. It’s the best thing he’s done since his game-changing debut, and heartening evidence to suggest the self-professed Louis Vuitton don is in a good place right now. You’d be mad not to follow him.
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