From the university and parties of 2007’s Graduation, Kanye reigns in a distinct dark departure leaving heart and love in the spotlight. West will alienate many listeners much in the way Beck did with Sea Change in 2002 with this album, especially those seeking follow-ups to the Good Life and Stronger. But even those-in time-will warm up to his most challenging, downcast effort to date.
The centerpiece resides in the isolation and loneliness expressed throughout the album. From the beginning, Say You Will gives the impression he’s hooked up in the hospital as a Ping-Pong-esque sounds bounce left and right mimicking medical monitors. It’s stark, stunningly foreboding with the only true organic sound coming from a chorus just behind the curtain. Obviously with this, Kanye’s voice is running through the Auto-Tune which critics have deemed overused and annoying. However, it adds to the artistry, giving his voice this unnatural, frozen quality. Without it, he may have just come across as whining-with it, it helps draw listeners into that void of a broken heart.
Leading up to 808s & Heartbreak, Kanye’s mother tragically, unexpectedly passed away. Afterwards, his engagement ended. An introspective, soul-searching dominates especially upon Welcome to the Heartbreak. “My friend showed me pictures of his kids, and all I could show him was pictures of my cribs. He said his daughter got a brand new report card, and all I got was a brand new sports car.” Gone are the bragging, replaced by a longing for new meaning as others change around him. (The track features Kid Cudi, who recently released a notable mixtape.)
Track 3: Heartless
The production leans away from hip hop towards minimalist electronic due to the Roland TR-808 he heavily utilized, like on Paranoid. But the contrast is balanced by pianos and strings, although even those don’t dare distract from Kanye. They’re caged, contained, and used sparingly in the best way (see Street Lights) save for Bad News where they’re freed, only once Kanye is finished, and drift away to return to the stark, electronic heartbeat.
As mentioned, Kanye could come across as complaining depending on the listener. At times, it does seem a bit much but the guests (including Lil Wayne, Mr. Hudson, and Young Jeezy) keep it in equilibrium as best as possible. To be honest one more guest would’ve made the album more diverse and better. Yet if Kanye was using this as a mode to release and express, given all the hardships of the past year, he’s succeeded in creating a compelling, introspective that’s as chilling as the coming Chicago winter.
(The album lived up to my expectations, especially after Love Lockdown was unveiled.)