I felt doomed from the start, here. People who know me know that I don’t care for Kanye as a person and as such have tended to show very little interest in his music. On first listen, my thoughts just felt dishonest; if I praise him, I am appeasing the people who suggested it; and if I criticise, I am just representing my previous position.
I thought there was so much to say for this that I almost split the review into a personal one and a regular format… but Esme persuaded me the whole thing can be done in one. So that’s the deal – I’ll try and keep things to the point but I’ll need to reference things – it’s going to be double length.
This album mostly received critical praise and the praise came from a really solid grounding; I will quote some statements in the review. Kanye decides that it’s time to get a bit more experimental with sound, with a list of collaborators as long as your arm. It shows and cards on the table, I did like the album; it was sonically interesting, well produced and polished.
Along with the album, though comes a whole lot of fan-service. Jon Dolan – Rolling Stone:
Yeezus is the darkest, most extreme music Kanye has ever cooked up, an extravagantly abrasive album full of grinding electro, pummeling minimalist hip-hop, drone-y wooz and industrial gear-grind. Every mad genius has to make a record like this at least once in his career – at its nastiest, his makes Kid A or In Utero or Trans all look like Bruno Mars.
No! This is not true at all; I don’t know whether the idea is that abrasiveness is the same as being unlikable. I’ve reviewed Kid A for one and that was a rebellion against the current themes in rock music; abrasive, yes, but calculated. To say that it was trying to be nasty misses the point.
Let’s pick some tracks; the album starts with On Sight. Ah! that’s why I got the Death Grips album last week. It’s the scratchy backing and the standard introduction track to Kanye, his bursting onto stage moment. It’s full of word-play as a lot of good hip hop is; it sets the stage for what is to come… well I say that but personally, the following track Black Skinhead works way better for this! Rhythmically it’s brilliant, incessantly pushing lyrics at you as his “theme song” and they are just great:
Four in the morning, and I’m zoning
They say I’m possessed, it’s an omen
I keep it 300, like the Romans
300 bitches, where’s the Trojans?
Baby we living in the moment
I’ve been a menace for the longest
But I ain’t finished, I’m devoted
And you know it, and you know it
It’s passionate and delivered so crisply, the backing is simple and is no more than is needed. This track is all about the words here ending with the gasps of “God”, which of course feeds into I Am A God.
This is way more House than anything that has been played so far, its heavy, pulsing and with an overall raw feel. The issue comes in the lyrics though; sometimes you get something great, other times you get lines like:
I am a god
So hurry up with my damn massage
In a French-ass restaurant
Hurry up with my damn croissants
Ehhh, that’s a little forced and I know it’s tongue in cheek but I don’t know you have those little complacent moments that don’t fit; they make you roll your eyes and perhaps that’s me being curmudgeonly. These kind of lines don’t always fall flat! Lines like:
You see there’s leaders and there’s followers
But I’d rather be a dick than a swallower
Yeah. That’s clever and funny enough to sit well. The track itself is also a more of an electronic dance music then the whole track transforms into something much more melodic at the end. Overall this is the sort of track I like! Lyrically it’s attacking people who censor or filter artistic devices… and it would mean so much more coming from elsewhere. It’s like the Simpsons making fun of Fox; of course they can, they’re in a position of complete power to do so… Oh I don’t know.
Moving on a bit, I don’t much care for Hold My Liquor, its sort of nice backing but lyrically a little eye rolling again. I’m In It again has some of this lyrical tiredness – but with a much more reggae dub feel. “That’s right, I’m in it” is certainly catchy with the scratchy Jamaican vocals supporting. Fairly decent.
Blood on the Leaves opens with a sample of Nina Simone. Kanye sings in a purposefully auto tuned style backed by really pulsing scratchy horns. Overall as a sign, I quite like it, it all works and the track really has a lot of merit. This is the stuff that separates this album. It’s really trying lots of different styles and it does so well and competently and it really throws the unavoidable question to me. Am I rebelling against points of this album because it’s Kanye? Can I separate the artist from the music and, indeed, should I? We’ll leave that question hanging for a moment.
Guilt Trip uses the sort of synth blips flying at you that you hear quite often these days. It’s sort of auto tuned speaking in this case and we hear more about past relationships that fell apart
The door locked by myself and I’m feelin’ it right now
Cause it’s the time when my heart got shot down
Again a solid enough track and it’s the sort of material that we do like to indulge in, personal stories about past relationships; so it holds its place well.
I love the bass in Send It Up, in fact I love the over all sound to that synthy wail that perforates the whole thing. Great sound but the lyrics “Yeezus just rose again” just proves a point here. Yeezus is a play on Kanye’s name and Jesus (obvious I know) but it’s just put in to show that with this album he has risen to knew heights. Cynical me calls it a messiah complex, diplomatic me says it’s a joke. We’ll see.
The album closes with Bound 2 with its “One good girl is worth a thousand bitches,” vibe. It’s a much more soulful track but it’s a bit haphazard in its construction, changing feel near the end in the sort of closing sound multiple sounds. A little sloppy but with plenty to go for it.
So that was my foray and it was an interesting one. Kanye can write and produce songs extremely well. The construction is undeniably strong; the songs are varied, clever and all work. But. He’s so. Damn. Into himself… and it bleeds through, ultimately detracting from the work. There are moments that could have been tighter but overall – well – I have to call it a good album…
Is this album for you?
Kanye so embodies today’s music that you possibly know where you stand on him already but if you are curious, this album may be a good entry point. It’s got a lot of good work mixed in that really enriches it. I would recommend having a skim of what I’ve written and maybe putting on the tracks that sound like they might work for you if you are unsure.
- Writing: 8/10
- Performance: 6.5/10
- Style: 7.5/10