Saturday, 22 November 2008

early thoughts on Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak

I deliberately ignored all the leaked singles, didn't watch his MTV performance of Love Lockdown or anything, so had never heard any of this until yesterday. So if you've been following the pre-release hype closely, you might've read all this before. But my jaw was scraping the floor after listening to 808s & Heartbreak yesterday.

I cannot think of the last time such a major artist took such a major risk. Not only is it so utterly different from what he's ever done before, it's also different in a very challenging way because it's morose, synthetic and entirely Autotuned (at least, that's kinda challenging to British ears - the overt Autotune thing hasn't really happened over here, I've never listened to T-Pain or Flo Rida, even Lil Wayne has little to no profile here (Wiki says Tha Carter 3 has sold 60,000 copies here since debuting at No.23 in the album chart)). But it's not just the Autotune, everything about this record is bizarre. It's not a Kanye West record, it's a breakdown, it's a headfuck. It's The-Dream doing his own Plastic Ono Band. That's one of my favourite albums of all time but a lot of people hate it for its self-indulgence: it's got nothing on the self-indulgence of 808s, and Kanye will lose a lot of fans with this. It's going to be very easy to hate on; people who defend it will need developed arguments, and the stamina to wield them regularly.

The final song, Pinocchio Story, is what's interesting me the most so far. It's an audience recording, not soundboard, and there's even one point where a girl screams and the recording distorts so you can hear it's some cheap lo-fi recording device. That's not Kanye production values, that's a crappy bootleg or a YouTube rip, which he's using to close out his album!? But I think it works amazingly well because its much quieter than the rest of the record, he sounds so distant, it's like he's gone away, like he can only do the 'performing mega-star' thing for so long before he has to retreat. But also there's obvious disconnect between him and the crowd - he's pouring his heart out and the crowd is bemused and silent but when they hear "and people say Kanye's too real" (roughly) they cheer - yeah you're so real Kanye! - and totally miss his point. He's trying to be deeply personal to thousands of persons he doesn't know, and I think that alienation is the point of the whole record, and I think Pinocchio Story conveys that brilliantly.

I'm reviewing it for The Skinny and still don't know whether it's a 2, or a 5, or anywhere in-between. It's dominating all my thoughts since I put it on 24 hours ago. It's extraordinary.

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