Monday, January 24, 2011

Kanye's Fantasy

Had it not been for Son #2, it’s unlikely I would have given Kanye West much of a listen. I don’t have any problems with the notion of rap being a serious art form deserving of its place in the rock pantheon, but in the end most of it is just not for me – which isn’t surprising, given that I’m a 50-year old white male. That doesn’t mean I don’t have rap in my collection – I’ve got a decent sampling of the early greats (Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel, and some of the other Sugarhill groups), but that’s really about it. I’ve got Eminem’s greatest hits, and I think “Stan” and “Lose Yourself” are two of the greatest songs of this (or any) generation. But I’d never ventured into Kanye world, even with all of the critical acclaim and the public notoriety.

Upon its release in late 2010, it immediately became apparent that Kanye’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” was going to win all of the critic’s polls. It got a rave in “Rolling Stone,” it got a perfect ten in “Pitchfork,” Christgau gave it a solid “A.” And sure enough, that has come true, and its domination has been somewhat unprecedented. It’s probably fair to say that Kanye has come as close as any major artists in years (The Clash? Prince? Nirvana?) to conquering the entire spectrum of the rock critic establishment.

And as it turns out, there’s a pretty good reason for that.

One night in December, I was wandering around upstairs, and heard the sounds of a very interesting song coming out of Son #2’s bedroom. “What is that?” “That’s the new Kanye West.” Oh oh…just what I need, more music to check out. The song was “Dark Fantasy,” and it kicks off the new album in spectacular fashion.

I’m not going to do a song-by-song review, but suffice to say that nearly every track on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” crackles with that hard-to-identify edge and verve that separates the great music from the merely good. As I once said about M.I.A.’s “Kala,” the damn thing just sounds exciting. “Power” and “Runaway” are the standouts for me, and to be honest, I don’t even care what he’s saying. I can pick out a phrase here and there (“…you’ve been putting up with my shit just way too long…”), but it doesn’t really matter. For me, the brilliance of “Runaway” is not so much the message that’s being conveyed, but the excitement of a simple piano progression that turns into a pulsating beat that is so strong it sends shivers up your spine.

So, yeah…the guy can be a real idiot, and counter-productive to the very things in which he believes because of the things that come out of his mouth, but put him in a studio, and he knows what he is doing. There’s a very simple reason that “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” has topped every critic’s poll on the planet. It was the best album of 2010, and as much as I liked “The Suburbs,” I’m not sure anything really came close.

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