Kanye West – 808s and Heartbreak

January 01, 1970

(Roc-A-Fella)

 

www.rocafella.com

 

Even
in an industry known for its massive egos, West stands out- crashing award
shows and throwing fits about not winning top honors at the Grammies is par for
the course with him.  You have to wonder
what’s going to obsess him after he finally does win that award someday.

 

You
also have to wonder if that obsession is driving his latest concept.  Just as Outkast moved away from rap to
R&B/pop, West seems ready to take that leap too, making use of not just the
808 drum sounds from his latest title but another, more unfortunate electronic device:
the Auto-Tuner, aka the device that made many non-vocals sound like singers by
correcting their mistakes (which was popularized on Cher’s
“Believe”).  A cute gimmick at
first, it’s becoming the most overused gimmick this year, especially used and
abused by singer T-Pain (who helped to coach West on its use).

 

Where
West had a streak of three extraordinary albums preceding this, his concept of
R&B Auto-Tuning comes as something of a let-down.  What about the cult-rock samples (Can!) and
the alien themes (“Spaceship”) and a hit about his savior
(“Jesus Walks”) and the rap he did with his jaw wired (“Through
the Wire”), the Ray Charles revival (“Gold Digger”) and the
James Bond theme tied to modern African slavery (“Diamonds from Sierra Leone”)?  Now he’s just fascinated by a singing trick.

 

Even
if you don’t care about his ambitions, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he
can’t at least still make good music, at least in theory.  While his songs are serviceable pieces
of R&B, that’s all they are usually, and for an artist who keeps striving
and pushing himself like West, that’s a disappointment.

 

But
if you can forget that it’s West singing here through that voice contraption,
the songs are decent enough.  If you
heard “Love Lockdown” (with its funky piano and percussion stomps) on
the radio otherwise (maybe from John Legend – or Usher, because that’s who
Kanye really wants to be now), you’d
probably enjoy it, if not fall in love with it yourself.  Coupled with the catchy and Philly
Soul-influence “Paranoid,” the industry-beats meets soaring strings
of “RoboCop,” the middle of the album hits a good groove but that
leaves the front side and back side of the record a little saggy with
tune-starved material (“Street Light,” “Coldest Winter”),
overly simplistic ballads (“Say You Will,” “Welcome to
Heartbreak,” “Bad News”) and chopped/screwed fantasies
(“See You In My Nightmares”) that probably wouldn’t even stand up in
Prince’s or Stevie’s reject pile. 
Otherwise, it’s telling that some the strongest moments here come up
when he remembers that he’s a rapper (“Heartless”), which he’ll
hopefully remember the next time he hits the studio.

 

Most
of all, it sounds like this album could use a creative producer who would push
the artist into edgier territory. 
Someone like… Kanye West.

 

Standout Tracks: “Love Lockdown,”
“Heartless” JASON GROSS

 

 

 

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