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Torn and Deflated?

11/22/2008

Torn & Deflated

Photo Credit: KAWS

I’m no stranger to an artist getting fed up with the norm in the Music Industry and feeling that they can use their prior success to shake up the game. I’m also not a stranger to allowing life experiences (i.e. mental anguish, emotional stress, spiritual orientation, political viewpoint, living conditions, relationships; romantic or otherwise etc.) influence the music you create. More often than not it makes for a better quality of song that the masses can relate to on more than one level. It’s a well known that most music consumers will gravitate to the lyrics of an audio on familiarity or title alone. Add decent enough sound production as the backdrop, maybe even a gimmick or a collabo or three with another generally accepted artist and you may have either a hit song or album on your hands. The more personal the song, more often than not, the more people will like it enough to plunk down some cash to own a copy to play at their leisure.

The formula has worked for countless artists and I won’t attempt to try and name any for the sake of semantics, plus the list would look like a greatest albums of all time post.

With that said…on to an actual album review.

Lyrically the album is working for me. I am very much hearing what Kanye is trying to verbally convey with this new album and given his prior track record, he has never been at a loss for words. The majority of the tracks have the same insight into his life as it stands to date that Kanye is famous for, so the consistency is definitely there this time around.
This is the same person that came into the music game initially as a producer but convinced more than a few of his capacity for relevant rhymes by spouting many memorable lines, either on his own albums or in cameos for other artists over the past five years. In this respect, lines from “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly” from Consequence‘s Don’t Quit Your Day Job! LP or Selfish from Slum Village‘s Detroit Deli ( A Taste of Detroit) album quickly come to mind.

Check “Welcome to Heartbreak” for more clarity as to what I mean.

Welcome To Heartbreak” feat. Kid Cudi:

His clever juxtaposition of extravagant wants outweighing his feelings of what he may actually need, in comparison to a homeboy of his with the type of life he is in search of, is quite astonishing. Especially given the fact of his mother’s untimely passing last year and his breakup (not sure if it was Jen and Vince style or not) with long time girlfriend fiancée Alexis Phifer.
I would even guess that without either one there to keep his mental state well grounded, it has been tough for Kanye (Mullet and all) and this track may be part of his outcry along with “Coldest Winter” since he has not been anywhere as vocal about either of these subjects as he has other things in his existence.

Moving on to the sonics of the LP, this is where it gets tricky. We all know that due to the popular resurgence of the Vocoder or Auto-Tune, there have been certain artists that have used this to help the creative process a record goes through before actually being released to the world. In most cases it has worked on some level. I’m reminded of past forays into the use of the recording plugin such as Cherilyn Sarkisian‘s use of it for one of her last actual hits “Believe” where it added more depth to the song and put her back in the public eye after a number of record less years.

Even further back one could possibly speak on Kraftwerk, Herbie Hancock or even Styx‘s use of Vocoder on “Mr. Roboto“. We could also get into the Roger Troutman & Zapp years of success with it. (see “Computer Love” or “I Wanna Be Your Man“) There could even be a discussion here of Teddy Riley’s use of it during the New Jack Swing movement (see “Teddy’s Jam II” from Guy‘s instant vintage “The Future” LP).
I’m sure there are others I am missing here but point being, these artists were conservative in the use of it and the “Less Is More” or the minimalistic constraint was applied to full effect for the listener’s enjoyment and the artist’s credibility. On the flip side there are those in today’s music industry who prescribe to the “More Is Money” ideal of its use. I shouldn’t really have to name him them but for the sake of those reading that are unfamiliar, T-Pain and of course Lil’ Wayne have been known to over use indulge in the recording technique.
This being said, IMHO, I can’t completely put Kanye into either category without saying this: On some tracks it very much adds to the soundscape and feel of the song.

Example One:

Heartless“:

Liked the song well enough but was appalled by the video if for nothing more than the warped version of the Rotoscope technique that always amazed me when Ralph Bakshi used it. Unfortunately, Kanye and Hype Williams’ vision of it had no where near the purity it could have had if it was done in more of his style. Just my preference I guess. As far as the Auto-Tune goes for this one, the song may have been a little dull sans the electronic vocals.

Example Two:

Robocop“:

Which is one of the better tracks, in terms of production, concept and Auto-Tune use and strangely the beat change reminds me of “Birthday Girl” from The Roots last album “Rising Down“.

On the other hand, his use of the effect can detract, negatively or otherwise from the overall song…

Example Three & Four:

Street Lights“:

See You In My Nightmares“:

In all fairness it doesn’t take all that much from the “Street Lights” track. It is bearable to an extent but does cross over a very fine balance one too many times for my ears.
On the other extreme end of the spectrum, the distorted effect in Kanye’s and Lil Wayne’s verses on “See You In My Nightmares” borderlines on just plain horrid. I can’t just blame it on the fact I don’t Stan for Wayne either as I thought he was more than decent on T.I.’s “Swagger Like Us” so I can appreciate at least one of his contributions since I haven’t really cared for any of his work if the last five years.

Lil Wayne aside, probably my biggest qualm at this point would be that songs I would have liked more hook or chorus in, West just simply attempts lets the music talk and vice versa. The starting track “Say You Will” is cool until you get past the verses and hook. Then the track which is 6:17 minutes long, starts dragging due to the lack of anything else but the beat for the last 3:05.

The same holds true of:

Bad News“:

which is a tad misleading. You read the title, assuming it is going to be ballad-ish or somewhat depressing but surprisingly it is one of the most up tempo songs on the disc besides:

Paranoid” feat. Mr. Hudson:

which I have deemed as my favorite track just because it almost doesn’t fit the motif of this album’s “Great Depression-esque” theme. The subject matter more matches the tone of the album but the tracks vibe can almost be likened more to the T-Pain infused “Good Life” from the Graduation LP. I guess this could also be due to the addition of the London based and signed to West’s G.O.O.D Music label, Mr. Hudson‘s contributions.

Moving on…

After a second spin of the album, I am willing to bend a little more towards my initial thoughts on the total outcome of this album’s direction. Kanye is still in the building with this one, albeit not with both feet. It’s more like one whole foot and the big toe of the other.

Cutting edge some will call it. A new direction for an artist with more potential than most, others will say. There will be some that disregard it totally and won’t buy it or refuse to listen once, twice or at all. I can respect any of those views at this time as my verdict is still a little shaky right now even for me.
Is it as solid as his last three CDs? Not quite as I would give it a 7.5 compared to the 9.0 or better I would give any of his earlier work. For more of a breakdown, 7.0 is for the overall vibe, with the .5 for attempting to bring change to the industry that I feel will no doubt embrace it. Maybe not on the grand scale West is hoping for though but embrace it none the less. At least until the next big thing comes along and sends Kanye back to the drawing board.

Either way, whether you purchase the LP or get it bootleg, listen to it once or on indefinite loop, cringe and scratch at your eyes at the abundance of Auto-Tune or turn it up louder and annoy all in your vicinity, I doubt Mr. West will be all that heartbroken about it any of it.

Photo Creds go to KAWS for re-doing the initial LP cover at Ye’s request for the Special Christmas / iTunes cover.

Listen:
808s & Heartbreak:

Later,
Square

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