Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Review by Jack Foley
KANYE West returns to his provocative hip-hop best with epic fifth album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which arguably represents his best work since 2005’s Late Registration.
Featuring a who’s who of guest talent, which draws from the worlds of pop, indie and rap, the album is a monster in every sense… and one that delivers on a lot of levels.
First and foremost, it puts West back at the top of the hip-hop order after his indifferent experimenting on 808s & Heartbreaks. Here, he’s defiantly brash, knowingly confrontational and seemingly revelling in every single second of it.
The line-up of collaborating talent also suggests that, for all his public transgressions and tempter tantrums, he’s still more popular than ever.
On this LP, you have Sir Elton John rubbing shoulders with the likes of Jay-Z, Bon Iver, Fergie and Rihanna with John Legend, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj and Raekwon also featuring prominently (and that’s not all).
The result is truly epic… and, yes, sometimes infuriating. There are moments of greatness, and others of frustrating indifference.
So Appalled, in which Kanye declares himself to be “so outrageous”, is one such example of an under-performing track, when the beats and electronics make for a fairly tepid offering, in spite of a line-up that also includes Jay-Z, Pusha T, Prynce Cy Hi, Swizz Beatz and The RZA. Or, to coin a phrase from the track itself: “It’s fucking ridiculous.”
But such moments come in stark contrast to the epic Monster, which drops an absolutely infectious back-beat and finds West and company at their most brash and out there… not really doing his female listeners any favours, and demanding that he’ll need to see “your mother-f**king hands at the concert”.
Could West be referencing his own notoriety? Perhaps… especially when he declares: “Everybody knows I’m a fucking monster!” But with an entourage including Jay-Z, Rick Ross and Nicki Minaj on this track, no one seems to mind. And why should they?
Throughout the album, though, there’s invention, surprises and notoriety in waiting. Dark Fantasy, which opens proceedings, drops an almost show tune vibe to begin with… hitting you with a chorus of female singers asking “can we get much higher” and soaking you in piano-backed harmonies, before West then takes centre-stage. It’s insanely catchy though and self congratulatory, too, when it speaks of finding bravery in his bravado.
Gorgeous, featuring KiD CuDi and Raekwon, then finds more appealing, if low-key, hip-hop beats working in tandem with an addictively simple instrumentation and Alec Baldwin references… likewise the African rhythms of Power, a heavily politicized offering that flips a finger at the administration (“no one man should have all that power”) and generating the type of beat that’s ripe for creating a revolution.
Sir Elton John has his moment in the spotlight during the piano interlude that precedes All Of The Lights, another of the album’s gargantuan slices of egotism. It opens with a Rocky Balboa-esque horn fanfare, drops a Rihanna vocal, spins a tale of infidelity and then finds West as God commanding that the scene be illuminated in order to fully expose the betrayal and vengeance that ensues. It’s a bravura moment.
Up until that point, and including Monster, the album really excels, which makes the disappointment of So Appalled and Devil In A New Dress all the more disappointing.
But then West lights the touch paper once more with Runaway, a deceptively simple offering that begins with almost a minute’s work of solitary piano chords, before dropping another emphatic hip-hop beat and some similarly compelling lyrics (also featuring Pusha T).
Hell Of A Life then drops one hell of a scuzzed up bassline groove and continues the album’s momentum, complete with a blistering chorus and samples from Iron Man, She’s My Baby and Stud-Spider (as if to underline’s West’s eclecticism).
Poetry, cellos and John Legend combine to endearing effect on Blame Game, another tour-de-force moment that wraps some cracking beats over swirling piano arrangements and musings on a failed relationship in which both parties were wrong. Then, as if to wrong-foot you, there’s a typically foul mouthed celebratory tirade from comedian Chris Rock, revelling in the good fortune of a particularly fruity birthday gift. You could argue its close to genius, especially for an outro to a song.
West’s not finished there, though, adding some indie elements into the album’s equation with the inclusion of Bon Iver on the contemplative Lost In The World, which almost effortlessly drifts into the final salvo, Who Will Survive in America… a slightly suspect sentiment to end things on, but one that’s undoubtedly, irrepressibly Kanye West (anti-nationalistic and all).
You just can’t help but admire him, faults and all, when the music making is this courageous and inspiring.
Download picks: Dark Fantasy, Power, All Of The Lights, Monster, Runaway, Hell Of A Life, Blame Game, Lost In The World