Kanye West, "Yeezus"
Let me begin by saying I hardly have a place reviewing this album when the perfect review has already been written with such eloquence and grace I am almost forced to marvel at the criticism more than the work itself, but let’s continue for formality's sake:
Kanye West’s new album is officially released after it was leaked this past weekend. It’s a polarizing departure from his previous work into a darker realm of electronic music, where a racially-charged message is delivered atop ominous drones and electromagnetic soliloquies that grit your soul and expose the fact that West sees himself as the multilayered genius he thinks we believe he is. Track 3, after all, is entitled “I Am A God.” Do we dare refute his mastery?
My first trip through the album was troubled; I found nothing memorable, nothing that drew me in aesthetically the way West’s albums of the past have. Initially I found these 10 tracks to be a series of 10 disappointing treadmills, trapping me within the dark drones of West’s vision and ultimately taking me nowhere. It was a Sisyphean experience where intense and racially charged lyrics were a boulder magically appearing at the bottom of a mountain each time I reached the summit. It seemed West was laughing at me as I tried to find moments to cling to, to enjoy, to tell my friends “ah, yes, this track is truly amazing.” But I couldn’t find them. Maybe they’re there, but I suppose this “God” works in mysterious ways and only by devoting my life to Yeezus will I understand them.
A few more times listening to the album lead me to this conclusion: I will know people who love it, I will know people who hate it, and I will know people who hate me because I’m not that crazy about it—however no one will be listening to this album 6 months from now.
Sure, it has it’s moments. The feeling in my heart when the beat drops on “On Sight” is magical, yet so ephemeral I’m offended when it doesn't return. “New Slaves” approaches the realm of accessible hip hop, but gets buried under the uncomfortable message West is determined to convey. “I’m In It” is as purposeful as it is vulgar; not that we really wanted to hear about West’s sexual escapades, but this track has a goal and accomplishes it flawlessly. “Blood On The Leaves” I find mysteriously attractive, its pulsating horns a driving force that, unfortunately, gives way to an autotune masturbation session. The Biggie fan in me greatly enjoys the “BAKA, BAKA, BAKA” reference in “Guilt Trip,” a psychedelic tiptoe through electromusical monotony. “Send It Up” has some amusing lyrics, I guess. (Actually no it doesn’t, I’m just trying to find something else positive to say.)
“Bound 2” is solid. This is West in his element--not pushing boundaries, not trying to lick your soul with a heat gun, just making the music for which we love him, for which we tolerate his ego, his awful girlfriend, his 190-proof ostentatiousness. Then again it might be that after 9 tracks that fall short at least partially, this album’s coda is a breath of fresh air to listeners who just had to stumble along with West as he tested how far he could push his sonic limits. I almost felt like a bored husband helping his wife pick out a dress for the upcoming office party, and after she steps out of the dressing room for the 10th time and says, “Oh, I like this one. I’ll buy it. We can go now,” his blood is overwhelmed with endorphins of anticipation. He will leave the mall soon, just as we don’t have to listen to Yeezus again.
Perhaps some of the fine producers West enlisted for this album will do some great mixes, or other DJs and post-sound artists will churn out something I can play in my car all summer, but as it stands now Yeezus is not that kind of album. Nor was it meant to be, but is it worthy to grace my speakers at all? Sure it’s interesting, but is it enjoyable? A chef can broil you the greatest ribeye the world will ever see, but if you don’t like the taste of beef you aren't going to scarf it down. At the same rate, you can love beef but if your chef decides to make you a gefilte fish sandwich with cranberry sauce and onions, you’re not going to be very happy. And that’s where I stand with Yeezus—I get it, I see what you did, nice job. Can I have something else, please?
It’s as if West doesn't want us to like it, just respect it, which I suppose I do, but that doesn't necessarily make a good pop record. If the effort to be dark and uncomfortable overshadows the initial artistic intent the message becomes muddled and enjoyment harder to find. Unlike previous works I don’t see the West who knew what he wanted before he ever heard it; I see a man experimenting, a rough draft, something that, hopefully, will give us an even better album later on. Until then we’re left with an odd experimentation, a paltry levy I don’t see lasting past Mr. West’s next flood of genius, whenever that may be.
Let’s hope it’s soon.