Monday, November 24, 2008

808s and Heartbreak

Back when Coldplay's new album was released critics and bloggers tossed around a lot of $3 words like "revolutionary" and "huge departure". While I enjoy Viva la Vida, I do not think it's groundbreaking work in the slightest. It's more of the same sappy, sweeping pop rock from a band who does it well. Kanye West's new album, 808s and Heartbreak, comes out tomorrow. And a departure it certainly is.

Back in September his first single was released and it got me really excited. The thing about anticipation, however, is its affiliation with disappointment. After listening to 808s for the last several days, I'm happy to say it's held up, Li'l Wayne's heinous affectations notwithstanding. And it's a new direction for him, leaving behind some of the arrogant showboating and scathing exposés of his rap-industry brethren. It's deeply personal and downright depressive. In the year-or-so since his last album, he lost his infamous Mama and his fiancé, and it shows. Not since Alanis called out Uncle Joey has there been so much talk of heartbreak and pre-teen metaphors of winter and its coldness.

On last night's American Music Awards, Kanye performed his new single "Heartless", and he did it in the raw. He was a bit unhinged and edgy, but it seemed less staged than usual. Vulnerability isn't his strong suit, but perhaps after a year like that one he's decided to let his guard down. What with less rap and more singing, he seems to be laying himself bare.

Speaking of, there's been a lot of talk of AutoTune and it's abundance on the record. I guess something Cher used more freely than leather and lace isn't often considered artful. And if it weren't for a rich and melodic backdrop, I could see the vocal-device being a distraction. But for all the robotic and glitchy vocals, there are heavy drums (courtesy of the Roland TR-808) choirs, strings and a great turn from Toronto's own Esthero (who co-wrote three songs - cha-ching!) All in all, the album reads as fairly organic, considering Kanye isn't a singer and I can't imagine very many actual instruments were employed. It might be a testament to West's charisma and raw talent. He's nothing if not passionate, and that comes through, no matter how robotic the voice. If this is a vanity project, I can only hope he retains some of the vulnerability on future releases.


  1. Guhhh... I admit, I was reading this with a sigh because I am done with Kanye, but then you had to go ahead and throw in Esthero, who I LOVE -- now I'll have to snag this album.

    And thank you, thank you for being of the same mind when it comes to Coldplay. I feel like one day they are gonna release "Coldplay: Collected," and it will be the most remarkably consistent and homogeneous boxed-set ever produced.

  2. That WILL happen!
    God love them for single-bandedly giving middle-Americans songs to walk down the aisle to, but come on. Enough already?

    Kanye is a douche.
    I've said it before.

    But he's good! Fandom goes against all of my deepest inclinations. But here I am.

  3. I'm so torn on the whole thing. Okay, yes - there are a few tracks that are growing on me ("Paranoia" isn't bad, after all). But I always loved the witty lyrics, and the new stuff is a lyrical snooze fest. For the most part.
    Having said that, it's not BAD. It's not what I love, but it's not BAD.

    And Coldplay! What's the big deal? I don't get it. I can take or leave 'em.

  4. great review. i am a fan of kanye and think he's very refreshing musically. always doing something different - outside the box. i was just saying i have to pick up this album and yours is one of the best reviews i've read on it so far ('professional' music reviews included)

    i agree he's cocky as hell but he backs it up.

  5. You don't think Coldplay is revolutionary? They're so innovative. I mean, can't you hear how innovative they are? They're totally innovative!