September 21, 2012
Kanye West's Good Music - 'Cruel Summer'
Kanye and co are back and the good news is he's as tormented as ever
7 / 10
Paging Dr Freud, paging Dr Freud, Kanye is back in the building! The rapper/producer whose megawatt talent is only comparable in size to the number of untreated psychological afflictions he reveals every time he opens his mouth, is here with a new album and, by the sound of it, the drugs still don’t work.
As anyone who witnessed those 15-minutes-plus live versions of ‘Runaway’ (“Let’s have a toast to the douchebags/assholes/ jerkoffs”) on the ‘Watch The Throne’ tour will attest, Kanye doesn’t seem close to winning the battle with those wicked voices in his head. And listening to the songs on his sort-of, but not-really new album ‘Cruel Summer’, it’s safe to assume that his time on Planet Kardashian hasn’t blunted his perspective at all.
Fourth track ‘New God Flow’ finds Kanye doing what he does best: equating his personal struggle with the struggle of the whole of black America. Against a strutting piano riff that bears a passing resemblance to ‘Jesus Walks’, his internal compass locates him next to the graves of Dr Martin Luther King and Rodney King (paging Dr… Oh you get it by now) – where he rails against those who were turned off by ‘Watch The Throne’’s bling and the fact he hooked up with someone who used a Steadicam as a passport to fame. “Cars, money, girls and the clothes/Ah man, you sold your soul”, says the imaginary conversation in his head.
“Nah man, I made something from nothing”, he reiterates. Meanwhile, on the incandescent remix of Chief Keef’s ‘Don’t Like’, there he is seeing the VMAs as his “Pontius Pilate moment” – “The media crucify me, like they did Christ/They wanna find me not breathing like they did Mike,” he says in his breathless, hall-of-mirrors intense way. Perspective may be absent from Kanye’s vocabulary but it’s at moments like these when he carries his fictional, muddied martyrdom like the king of the world, and there’s nothing better.
Sadly ‘Cruel Summer’ does not maintain this level of magical musical dysmorphia. John Legend’s retro-funk number ‘Bliss’ and Kid Cudi’s dancehall wig-out ‘Creepers’ are nothing less than pleasant but, in truth, when Kanye exits stage left, so does much of the magic. And the less said about R Kelly’s turn playing the rube Valentino on ‘To The World’ (and hitting us with the lines like “The whole world is a couch bitch, I’m Rick James tonight”), the better.
After the twin peaks of ‘Watch The Throne’ and ‘My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy’’s rap-pop grandeur, ‘Cruel Summer’ feels slight in comparison. Still, as a cross section of the most brilliant, solipsistic mind in rap, it’s an essential purchase.
To read all our reviews first - days before they appear online - check out NME magazine, on sale every Wednesday