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Album Review
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
by Kanye West

Roc-a-fella / Def Jam Records

Review Date
31st December
Reviewed by
Brannavan Gnanalingam

So much has written about Kanye West (often by himself) and his new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy that it is perhaps worth writing about it once the hype has died down a little. Most of the detractors (and those in praise) appear to be fixated on West’s personality, that the album is bad because Kanye West himself has an unlikable public persona. However, I don’t really care too much about whether Kanye West is a giant douchebag or not. There would be very few of the great artists who would be pleasant in enforced company. However, all of this is academic: especially as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is pretty damn good. But it’s easy to see why there is this overwhelming focus on West, given the album is a purging of sorts of West’s public persona. But he manages to make this not simply seem like a piece of self-loathing, it’s both a disavowal of himself and a statement of pride. Sure, he might have messed up at times, but he also wants to show off his undeniable talent.

‘Dark Fantasy’ is a sinister start, all stuttering and insecure and unsure of its place in the world, kinda matching West’s persona throughout the album. The songs aren’t really constructed around verse chorus verse chorus structures: West’s ambition is not to make a great pop album like Michael Jackson (to whom he frequently refers) but to work through his specific ideas and themes, often juxtaposing particular ideas (e.g. strong female voices alongside misogynist lyrics) and unconventional sounds (for hip-hop). He’s grounded by his eclectic sampling, his little flourishes which add a good dose of unpredictability to the songs and his ear for a melody or rhythm. ‘Gorgeous’ feels like Sly and Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, all burnt out and jaded – if anything that masterpiece is perhaps a good touchstone for this album, as it too was made by a seen to be decaying megalomaniac who expressed his dissatisfaction and pessimism in the very beats and pores of the album. The album’s first masterwork is ‘Power’, a King Crimson sampling polemic. It sounds genuinely thrilling, as if the song is struggling to be constrained, and West’s lyrical performance is at its most uncompromising. While West’s rapping has never been his strong point, he’s raging on this song (“they say I was the abomination of Obama’s nation, that’s a pretty bad way to start a conversation”), and it’s fantastic.

The album’s midpoints are heavy in the star cameos (Rihanna, Elton John, Nicki Minaj, Bon Iver, La Roux among others), but they never crumple under the weight. Rihanna seems to once more subvert her relationship with Chris Brown, and provides a counterpoint to Kanye West’s self-pity. ‘Monster’ is punishing, with a wonderfully deranged performance by Nicki Minaj. The next two tracks, So Appalled and Devil in a New Dress sag a little because of what came before and what’s to come afterwards. ‘Runaway’ is getting a lot of the early attention, partly because of its Fellini inspired music video and because of the extended Autotune coda (which in truth, is not all that exciting) but it’s the first five minutes, with its minimalist piano, which are absolutely brilliant, where West in effect toasts himself while toasting the assholes and the douchebags. Hell of a Life bring some ‘normality’ back to the proceedings, if so in another sinister album. The production work on this song in particular is stellar. The Aphex Twin sampling ‘Blame Game’ and the vocal powerhouse of ‘Lost in the World’ make up for the later two songs’ heavy-handedness.

The album is being talked up as some sort of groundbreaking and innovative album. It’s certainly not that. But once the hyperbolic hype passes, and the inevitable too-cool-for-school backlash subsides, it’ll be seen as an incredibly good collection of hip-hop songs. It’d be easy to point out that other artists e.g. MIA, Outkast etc. had been pushing some of these boundaries already with hip-hop, but the consistency and the production brilliance ensure that this album will likely earn status as a classic. This album feels like a culmination of the direction West has been going over the last ten years. And in decades to come, when the world would have forgotten the likes of Taylor Swift, and the ego of Kanye West would be a mere footnote, this album would remain as evidence of his singular talent.


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