By David Colburn
Subtlety has never been a term remotely associated with Kanye West. Everything about his music and celebrity status is self-consciously bombastic and somehow controversial, from multiple media incidents to various egomaniacal rap anthems. Through generally clever lyricism and well-crafted beats formed from a diverse range of samples, West’s albums have been highly effective and enjoyable. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is as far from subtlety as one would expect, often for the best.
“Can we get much higher?” After a brief narrative delivered by Nicki Minaj, Mike Oldfield’s sampled vocal excerpt begins Kanye’s “Dark Fantasy” in an appropriately grand fashion. The aforementioned track and its follow up, “Gorgeous”, flow with considerable momentum and convincing confidence. West’s expressively involved delivery effortlessly overshadows the occasionally stumbling flow and the creative production condemns such an issue to the realm of after-thought. Specific moments, such as the South Park parody from early 2009, are quickly referenced to display the underlying nervous human quality of West’s self-involvement. The album painstakingly approaches a peak with its third track. Appropriately titled “Power”, the sense of potency is nearly universal; the music is relentlessly infectious, the lyrical flow is maturely smooth, and the atmosphere is undoubtedly exciting.
“All of the Lights” de-elevates slightly from the established soaring environment constructed by West and his collaborators, but it contains one of the most delicate bits of instrumentation, enjoyably-crafted electronically-tinged beats, and perhaps the most heartfelt lyricism of the entire album. The sense of decline is essentially comparative, with “All of the Lights” positioned between two of the album’s strongest and most intriguing tracks. “Monster”, a highly collaborative effort featuring Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj and Bon Iver, acts as a strong contender for the album’s qualitative opus. The track is instantly appealing, yet its structural qualities still develop and blossom into consciousness with each subsequent listen. A delightfully quirky beat is met with top-notch production and some of the most creative rhymes of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Listeners will potentially become immersed in the track to the point that the brief ambient sample of a monstrous roar does not even arrive as remotely cheesy.
“So Appalled” and “Devil in a New Dress” are notably adequate efforts, containing a respectively well-formed beat on the former and lushly-sampled instrumentation on the latter. The album picks up beyond expectation once again with “Runaway”, which combats “Power” and “Monster” as the standout track. In a gradual progression and somewhat relaxed atmosphere, the song presents a convincing statement of Kanye’s egomaniacal legacy with sincerity and density. In a sense, “Runaway” marks the moment when West steps down from his self-constructed pedestal and recognizes his human imperfection and the effects of his perceived persona in a quality that transcends its nine-minute duration. Considerably well-produced and genuinely emotional, the track feels weightless rather than endless.
“Hell of a Life” returns with a dark sense of humor, a catchy interpolation of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”, and notable aural diversity. “The Blame Game” is the only track on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with any notable sense of issue; the actual track is well-done from a sonic and lyrical standpoint, but it tends to unnecessarily drag on with the concluding phone call excerpt. The issue is not the crudity of the dialogue, but a sense of stilted delivery which creates a slight yet noticeable detraction from the darkly ambient quality of the actual track.
Bon Iver’s “The Woods” ignites the album’s segued finale “Lost in the World/Who Will Survive in America” in a quick progression toward fitting layers of aural delirium. The arrangement topples near an energetic climax steeped in a dense atmosphere best described as, appropriately enough, beautiful, dark, and twisted.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy effectively ends at the final handclap of the Gil Scott-Heron sample, but the iTunes bonus track “See Me Now” is blissfully reminiscent of earlier Kanye collaborations such as “We Major”. Both tracks feature a similar execution in enjoyably melodic production and creative verses, and the bonus track exerts a quality that would easily fit the arrangement of the standard album.
Kanye West may be prone to controversy, but few performers strive on their ego-heavy persona to such an extent. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is ultimately unapologetic as West explores a sense of self-obsession that may initially alienate listeners. Even if some of the lyrics cause the rolling of eyes, the underlying recognition of genuine talent simultaneously forms through the ears and minds. Within a few listening experiences, the most reluctant skeptic will have to admit that there is something significant about West’s new album, something that vigorously soars beyond all of the lyrical missteps and over-extended arrangements. The album may candidly irritate the listener at times, but the listener will continually return for subsequent listening experiences. Mike Oldfield’s introductory sampled question will soon be recalled and pondered in detail: Can we get much higher?