Album: Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam)
Recorded in Hawaii at a rumoured cost of some $3 million, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is one of pop's gaudiest, most grandiose efforts of recent years, a no-holds-barred musical extravaganza in which any notion of good taste is abandoned at the door.
Echoes and samples of everything from Gil Scott-Heron to King Crimson are littered amongst these tracks, along with myriad vaunting string and choral arrangements.
Kanye has never been short on ambition or ego, so it's no surprise he should have his guests (including such hip-hop luminaries as Jay-Z, Swizz Beats and RZA) queue up on "So Appalled" to confirm in turn how "this shit is/fucking ridiculous". Certainly no more of a surprise than finding he's now completely abandoned the wholesale electro/autotune approach of 808s & Heartbreak in favour of a return to the beats, band'n'samples style of his earlier albums, albeit in a grotesquely magnified manner. The sole use of autotune here comes on the lovely, poignant "Lost In The World", and that comes from the sample of Bon Iver's "Woods" around which the track is built.
Like Eminem, Kanye has realised that the most powerful form of hip-hop is not that carrying the biggest metaphorical firearm, or blowing its own trumpet the loudest – although he's far from shy in the latter respect – but the one which reveals the darkest recesses of the heart most honestly. Kanye can certainly be an utter toerag at times, and it's clear that when, on the nine-minute "Runaway", he proclaims a toast for the world's "douchebags, assholes and scumbags", he's including himself among their number. He proceeds to confront his own failings – his rudeness, promiscuity, hedonism, egotism and liking for tacky, bling-tastic glamour – but does it over a backing track on which delicate piano and sensitive cello are assaulted by nasty, distorted guitar, bearing out his self-assessment that he's "just young, rich and tasteless".
A similar alliance of aristocratic piano and cello with less rarefied elements underpins "Blame Game", a brutal rumination on West's sexual appetite, while the same lascivious territory is covered on "Hell Of A Life" to the accompaniment of buzzy synth motif, racing minimalist keyboard flourishes, and a vocal melody borrowed from Black Sabbath. But, as elsewhere on the album, the jarring musical contrasts – effectively between conservatoire and lap-dance club – are so magnified they somehow surmount the point of tasteful discomfiture and break through to another level where Kanye creates his own hierarchy of aesthetic needs, the better to serve what he calls "end-of-century anthems based on inner-city tantrums". Like Picasso, he acknowledges that the chief enemy of creativity is good taste – which is just as well, since it's not a quality with which he seems over-burdened on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. For which we should all be thankful.
DOWNLOAD THIS Runaway; Lost In The World; Hell Of A Life; Gorgeous; Monster; Blame Game