Earlier this year I bought 808s and Heartbreak for about £3 in Fopp. It took me about six months to remember to listen to it; sadly, that’s just the way it is sometimes.
When I did finally listen to it, I actually really enjoyed it. All the talk of autotune and miserablism had put me off, but actually the minimalist electro backing, crisp beats, and pretty direct tunes worked really well; certainly more than the slightly over-inflated Graduation, which sparkled in parts but was, like most Kanye product, too rich to consume in one sitting.
So, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy gets a 10.0 at Pitchfork, a 9 from NME, huge amounts of blog and forum chatter and hype, people saying it’s his masterpiece left, right, and…. Actually, Dorian Lynskey wrote a piece in The Guardian comparing it to Oasis’s similarly lauded behemoth Be Here Now, which landed with a bang and faded fast and hard. So I was intrigued to delve into MBDTF, hoping it would be awesome, afraid it might be an enormous turkey.
I’ve not been as… I’m tempted to say disgusted, by an album in a long, long time. But I don’t think I’ve ever actually been disgusted by an album. I still haven’t. But I do think MBDTF is disgusting. From the 3 minute soliloquy about “pussy reupholstery” through the rest of Kanye’s misogynist, avaricious money and sex talk, to the just bad lyrics and poor delivery in-between the ravenous nastiness, it’s bad. I can’t listen to it in good conscience and good taste anymore than I can watch torture-porn films that depict all eastern Europeans as bloodthirsty tourist killers.
But, y’know, loads of people have been saying “well yes, it’s nasty and greedy and horrible, but that’s the point, it’s a concept album about dark fantasies, etc etc, and the production is AMAZING”. Well you know what? It’s not. It’s really not. Its over-loud (and we all know how much I hate that, indistinct, mushy, badly layered and busy and crowded and unpleasant. On ILM there was suggestion that it might open up nicely on good kit. I’ve got good kit; it doesn’t. (I played it through a Rega CD player, Cambridge Audio amp, and B&W speakers – I angle my speaker stands with a protractor, for heaven’s sake.). Especially compared to the crisp electro minimalism of 808s, and the Jon Brion-aided lusciousness of Late Registration, this is nasty. It sounds like a 00s cocaine album.
And crazily, despite proclamations otherwise, the tunes just aren’t there either. There are maybe three that stuck out as having anything approaching hooks up to his best, but they’re really NOT approaching his best. Not at all. I played 808s and a chunk of Late Registration straight afterwards. Man, Kanye never could rap, but he certainly knew a pop tune, and he used his strained, fat-tongued, asthmatic rap to great affect, far outdoing the sum of his talent’s parts. But not here.
I’ll keep MBDTF and try it again; but given what Dorian said, and what others are saying, about it impressing on first listen and then fading fast (a sure sign of over-compressed mixing and mastering, generally), I’m really doubting that this is suddenly going to reveal something compelling and wonderful underneath.
Kanye’s beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy has no beauty, and if the desire to wear expensive clothes, drive supercars, treat women badly, and have nasty sport/porn-sex is dark, and twisted, rather than shallow and thoughtless, then I’m missing something that I don’t want to make an effort to understand.