It seems that ragging on Kanye West for anything other than his oversized ego and inappropriate public outbursts was off limits. Rightfully so, in my opinion. He was a producer-to-the-stars before The College Dropout, and he has gone nowhere but up since that first album came out in 2004. Unfortunately, rap’s megastar has decidedly turned his back on the genre in some misguided attempt to save pop music.
808s & Heartbreak
In all honesty, I wanted this album to blow me away. I enjoyed Kanye’s previous albums, and while I found it odd that everyone of his songs relied so heavily on sampled material, he is without a doubt mastered the skill. Just as I hadn’t really listened to a TON of Radiohead before In Rainbows, I wanted 808s & Heartbreak to make me fall in love with Kanye, to look past the asshole persona and see some genius inside.
This album has 2 (maybe 3) songs that are single material and the rest are filler. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need 12 singles to think an album is good; I wouldn’t even say that one is necessary (ie. BT’s This Binary Universe). But an album of filler does not cut it for me.
The first single Love Lockdown, which Kanye premiered live at the MTV 2008 VMAs deserves some credit for delivering on what was promised. It’s a well-intentioned crack at a minimal pop song (but the hip hop still lurks somewhere in the background). As far as the Auto Tune goes, I think it’s used appropriately here as an instrument and not as a coverup for poor vocals.
The same applies for the album’s second single Heartless. I love the breathy flute/woodwind stabs featured throughout the song. On top of that, I constantly find myself singing the chorus to this song. And I don’t really try to ever get it out of my head, it’s just catchy. Solid song (but let’s not get into the music video).
And that’s as far as the complements go. From Paranoid (featuring someone with a very average voice) on, this album was torturous for me to listen to. The formula of using Auto Tune over every vocal paired with simplistic beats constructed on a Roland TR-808 makes a couple interesting experiments, not an album. Taken as a whole, it seems that Kanye wanted to break molds, so for some reason he picked the effect that has framed T-Pain as a one-trick-pony and the drum machine that everyone in electronic music has used at one time or another to make beats. Maybe it’s me, but this combo does not scream experimental or pop in any way/shape/form.
Picking out the biggest offender, I especially loath the song RoboCop. I cannot figure this song out for the life of me. The majority of the lyrics don’t make sense, and those that do are just ridiculous. Again, let me clarify that every song in my library isn’t a deep, introspective on human emotions. But when Spank Rock raps about Backyard Betty, it’s tongue-in-cheek. If Kanye is just having fun with his lyrics and don’t mean anything by the references to Misery, the joke was lost on me. Aside from the lyrics, I also can’t stand the music to the song. The strings and glittery bells belong in a Christmas compilation album, and at some point in the song, Kanye ditches the Auto Tune. He needed to keep it on (so I flip flop about the Auto Tune… maybe he just shouldn’t sing).
In conclusion, this album will sell tons. The first two singles were carefully picked, and they are doing their job. This doesn’t really bother me, because tons of crap gets passed as quality on top 40 radio stations everyday, but I did expect more from Kanye. If you have the biggest ego in the world, you better have some quality material to back it up.
fyi: I do not have a standard rating system. I know I’ve done ratings out of 10 in the past, but I figured it would be easier to list what I have rated each song in my iTunes library.
- Say You Will 2/5
- Welcome to Heartbreak 4/5
- Heartless 5/5
- Amazing 3/5
- Love Lockdown 4/5
- Paranoid 3/5
- RoboCop 2/5
- Street Lights 3/5
- Bad News 3/5
- See You in My Nightmares 2/5
- Coldest Winter 4/5
- Pinocchio Story ???
ps: Would it kill Lil’ Wayne to speak in a normal tone of voice for once?