Random thoughts while listening to Kanye West - 808's and Heartbreaks

Preamble: I am curious about this album, as I like Kanye's previous efforts, particularly the Daft Punk sampling Stronger. He seems to me to becoming more interesting with each album, pushing the mainstream in different directions in the way that we used to associate with Timbaland and the Neptunes. From what I've heard of this album already, it seems like this is the one that pushes even further away from traditional hip hip and more into electro pop. Let's see.

Track One - Beep. Vocoder. Synth strings. As eclectic as rap music can be, there's nothing 'urban' about this track. A minimal ballad with longing vocals, it's quite a unique sound I think, a little '80's but with none of the melodrama that suggests. I am intrigued.

Track two - Oh, some rapping. But only a little. It's a similar feel to the first track, but punchier and more dynamic. And it's a sad song, called Welcome To Heartbreak, but sad in a way that only rappers can manage by mentioning sports cars and first class flights.

Track three - From heartbreak to Heartless. It's all about some evil woman, or whatever. Musically, it's following the same template of slow beats and synthy strings. I hope he mixes it up a bit, or this album could be very samey.

Track four - Well, this is that different, but it's a stronger track, and it features some going 'huh' over and over which is always welcome. This track is Amazing, which might be over doing it a bit, but this is the first track where this 80's electro pop style really works. Excellent production.

Track five - the single, Love Lockdown. I saw him do this on Letterman, and it was pretty impressive:

It's got fantastic drums, a lovely deep bass pulsing away, and his vocodered vocals are really strong. Very impressed.

Track six could have produced by Justice, it's pretty similar to D.A.N.C.E if you ask me. This is a good thing by the way, and Kanye hasn't been shy about Ed Bangers influence on him before. This album is so pop, and so far away from the swaggering aggression that that most people associate with rap music. I think that's pretty refreshing myself, but I guess the time was right, as European house music has been incorporated into rap and r'n'b in the last year in a way I'd never thought I'd see. If he'd released this even two years ago, he'd have been laughed out of the town.

Track seven is bizarrely called Robocop. There are so many synthy strings in this song that it couldn't be Kanye's attempt for that coverted Christmas number one spot. And I swear I just heard a few bells. It's a nail on! But it is actually very good, something that could so easily be cheesy is pulled through because of his brilliant production and comittment to make it sound awesome.

Track eight is a bit of a come down after the last three tracks. Not that I'm saying it's bad, it's just got back to that earlier slower template.

Track nine is called Bad News. Is this the most depressed album by a major artist since Dylan's Blood On The Tracks? (In case there are any Americans reading, that was a joke. And in case there are any Americans reading, so was that. And this.)

Track ten - I am wondering if there are any vocals in the album that haven't been vocodered. As the answer is probably no, I'm going to add this album to my ever growing list of records that could not have existed without Daft Punk. If they hadn't rescued it from the horrors of Cher, then it would have dissapeared for ever. They also invented robots, cake, space and oxygen, in case you wondering.

Track eleven is probably the first sad ballad that I could do without on this album. It's not a bad track in isolation, just there have probably been enough of them up to this point. But it is the album closer, so I suppose it works quite well in that respect.

In conclusion, it's a difficult album to get your head around right away, but I think that's because it seems like an album of odd comparisons. To see a rapper singing, being emotionally vulnerable, and doing it over that music is pretty strange. It works because of the sheer force of his convictions, the kind of self confidence that rappers share with heavyweight boxers, the kind that means that failure is not an option. Sure it can be irritating sometimes, and I don't want friends like that, but without it this album wouldn't work, an accusation that I don't think can be made.

Buy it here.


David N said...

Its a bizarre, fascinating album, maybe his best, I think. I bet his next sounds just like the others, though.

Mr Mantle said...

yo yo yo !! If you like electro dance then its not that difficult to get your head around to be honest. I was massively impressed from the first listen. I didn't think I would be but it impressed. I thought the album is better than the single. In my blog I suggested listening to it with followed by Daft Punk's Discovery. Very complimentary.
Big up yourself mate! I will defo keep checking your stuff out.


jamesinseoul said...

David N - Well, it's certainly his most interesting. I hope he doesn't go back, and keeps pushing forward, but I suppose that depends on his mental and emotional state, doesn't it?

Mr Mantle - I think it's a bit disconcerting because electro pop doesn't usually come from this source, and it isn't usually so fragile and confident at the same time. It's a really strange combination.