Kanye West - 808s And Heartbreak
It's hard not to compare albums. On the one hand, an album should have its own identity, displaying unique qualities that allow it to stand alone from an artist's prior work. An artist should always be pushing the envelope sonically, avoiding complacency or stagnancy, but there is a difference between expanding on one's sound and completely abandoning it. Choosing the latter often has immediate consequences; while critics generally laud the creativity, many fans feel betrayed, seeing their favorite artists stray from the formula that garnered them success. Radiohead, Pink Floyd, and The Smashing Pumpkins are some of the worldly acclaimed artists who have treaded this path-all of whom added layered synthesizers into a predominantly guitar-centric sound. This "abandonment" of a style makes reviewing Kanye West's new album, 808s and Heartbreak, so difficult; it is nearly impossible to listen to the gorgeous production of Graduation and not nostalgically yearn for its sequel. 808s must be approached with an open-mind-viewed as a separate entity from West's previous albums-but also with a critical and comparative ear, as the self-proclaimed rap prodigy would expect of his listeners.
On first listen, 808s is noticeably less varied in sound than Graduation. For one, the verbal samples are gone; there are no tracks like "I Wonder" or "Champion," as West opts to do the majority of the singing on this album. Yes, singing; this is not a rap album, per se. West uses the Auto-Tune program to aid his lackluster vocal skills, giving his voice a robotic reverb effect, and utilizes the notorious Roland TR-808 to have many of his beats resemble the sounds of African drums. While West throws in layered strings in "RoboCop," sprawling synths in "Paranoid," and minimalist keys in "Street Lights," the album surprisingly struggles with monotony-especially after the grandiose sound of Graduation. Particularly, the single trifecta of "Heartless," "Amazing," and "Love Lockdown" formulaically strips its sounds down-combining a drum beat, melodic keys, and heavily emphasized vocals in each. While independently the songs are substantial, which has been shown through the singles' tremendous success, as a whole, the lack of musical variety causes some of West's best work to drag.
The album is lyrically bound by West's heartbreak, ranging from his failed relationships-"tell everyone that you know that I don't love you no more"-to humorous anecdotes of a suspicious girl-"all of the time you be up in my checking through my cell phone." West does not relinquish his lyrical aptitude on 808s; on "RoboCop," West likens a spoiled L.A. girl to the protagonist of Stephen King's Misery (think Kathie Bates with a sledgehammer), only to follow with the poignant, piano-laden "Street Lights," written like a despondent, more mature reflection on "Flashing Lights," as West sings, "all the street lights, glowing / happen to be just like moments, passing [...] see, I know my destination, but I'm just not there." The song echoes and screeches until West makes his final realization, beaten and defeated, "life's just not fair."
808s peaks towards the album's finale, as West and Lil Wayne combine on "See You in My Nightmares." Wayne sounds uncharacteristically solemn and, well, pissed off, weaving in and out of auto-tune-ultimately letting his achingly hoarse voice evoke his own Heartbreak. "Nightmares" is biting and caustic, using a heavy synth as both the hook and original beat, ironically heating up the album for its finale, "Coldest Winter." The song's propulsive beat contrasts West's soft, morose vocals, as he painfully asks, "will I ever love again?" Here, in all his confusion and heartbreak, West sounds as sonically confident as ever, perfectly evoking the coldness of winter into spoken heartbroken sentiments.
Especially after suffering through the drones of the album opener "Say You Will" and the Linkin Park production style of "Welcome to Heartbreak," it seems that by album's end 808s' completely transforms itself-sounding cold, bitter, sullen, and overwhelmed. Through all of West's experimentation, many of it falls flat, but what succeeds glimmers, bringing the album to its lyrically ominous yet sonically triumphant finish, signaling hope even in the darkest moments: the coldest winters.
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on 2009-01-17 blackxdan Said:
i don't like all the autotune lately. Not a good trend to follow. =P
on 2009-01-12 kennyscheldt Said:
Kanye Omari West born June 8, 1977 is in fact a... GEMINI. And though I do not believe in astology, the ideology in which apparent relative positions of celestial bodies is useful in understanding and interpreting human affairs, I just might have to start picking up the daily horoscope after listening to West's latest LP 808s and Heartbreak. Geminis according to astrology can often have mutlifaceted personalities, and in this case, Kanye has a twin that can actually SING.
Unfortunately for Kanye, instead of seeing the potential of crooning like Sinatra or Bennett, his singing twin wanted to mimic the likes of T-Pain (At least he hasn't donned a rhinestone feather-covered top hat yet).
Standout tracks, if you can handle double-trouble Kanye are "Love Lockdown," "Street Lights," and "RoboCop," and any snippet of song that doesn't include too much autotune vocalizer effect.
Realize how many music producers now regret putting all that "fun" washed out reverberation on every track they produced in the 80s. Years from now we will cringe at the sound of robotic autotune laden vocal tracks and wish the Antares company never invented it.
10 stars for the 808 drum machine, It did its job. 10 stars for the Antares autotune effect, it did its job. 5 stars for Kanye for having a heart. I gave the other 5 to his twin rapper.