Whenever music critics have super-gushy orgasms about an album, my patented Bollocks! Skepticism Meter pegs over into the red and my eyebrow involuntarily arches until I can release enough vitriol to restore it to its normal position. The reviews that I saw come in at the end of 2010 for Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy actually broke the Bollocks! Skepticism Meter. Pitchfork gave it a 10.0, presumably out of a possible 10.0 but then why would they need the decimal point? (Will I ever stop bitching about Pitchfork’s numbering system? Yes. On the day they stop fucking using it.) I’ve since been able to repair it, using an amount of duct tape that is best described as “epic” and a car battery. To put it delicately, pretty much everyone emptied their balls on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy which probably didn’t do anything really healthy for Kanye West’s already titanic ego.
I have enjoyed a few of West’s songs in the past, even a couple on the mostly awful 808s and Heartbreak (from what I call West’s Auto-Tune period), but I’ve never found an album of his that I could sit through from start to finish. And I swore I wouldn’t touch My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (which, judging from the album art, has a lot to do with fucking white angels with ugly faces) unless a legitimate copy landed in my lap through absolutely no effort of my own. Well, my friend Zac gifted me the record over Amazon (with a note that said, if memory serves, “Fuck you.” Zac is a very dear friend) and now I’m listening to it and getting ready to render my objective verdict.
Which is, uh, this: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Sister is actually a pretty good album.
Let me say that again, in case your jaw hit the floor so hard that you blacked out: My Beautiful Dark Knight Comic Collection, the new album by Kanye West, is actually pretty good. It’s an imaginative, sometimes brilliant, often beautiful album that is one of only a couple of compelling hip-hop records to drop last year. I know. I’m as surprised as you are.
Let’s get one thing out of the way, though, before we continue our discussion of the merits of Mr. West’s music: Kanye West is not now, nor will he ever be, the voice of his generation. We don’t really have those anymore, I don’t think, and if we did, I’d like to think that anyone who declares themselves the Voice is automatically disqualified from the contest. What My Big Fat Twisted Rap Album does prove, however, is that Kanye West is – by a wide margin – the most talented mainstream hip-hop artist working today (Jay-Z guests on a couple of tracks on My Beautiful Dark Tittie Twister and you can almost taste the inferiority). There’s a musicality to this album that West’s would-be peers simply can’t match and it goes a long way toward justifying West’s sort of uncomfortable public obsession with Michael Jackson (another wacko – more so even than Kanye – who crafted the occasional brilliant record. Thriller is fucking awesome and I will not apologize to anyone for liking it). Songs like “Gorgeous” and “Runaway” would be obnoxious messes on a lot of other rap albums, but they are two of the best moments on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy RPG.
There’s still plenty of ammo for West’s biggest detractors here, and since I usually am one, allow me to point out that “So Appalled” goes on for way too long (and the rhyme of “this shit is” with “fuckin’ ridiculous” – pronounced “ridickle-iss” – is itself appalling), the Auto-Tune “Iron Man” parody on “Hell of a Life” is overreaching by a considerable distance, the Chris Rock outro on “Blame Game” is not funny for even half as long as it lasts, and the album, as the title suggests, is basically Kanye West crawling up his own ass for an hour or so and digging for gold. Also, though it does so about as masterfully as one can, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy traffics heavily in the evil twin duo of hip-hop tropes: rhymes about how good one is at rhyming and misogyny. If these two things disappeared from hip-hop forever as of midnight tonight, the genre would not suffer one bit. Just sayin’.
If West is willing to deify himself at the drop of a hat (and he is), he at least does us the favor of lambasting himself from time to time. “Runaway” raises a toast to assholes, a group to which West admits belonging, while warning the object of his desire to run away as fast as she can. On “Blame Game”, he paints a self-portrait of a fickle, egotistical, insecure dude, which strikes me as pretty accurate.
One of my biggest beefs with Kanye West has been the fact that his often cartoonish public persona has never been, to my mind, backed up by worthwhile music. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy displays a deft hand in both hip-hop and pop music and even its excesses, like the aforementioned “Hell of a Life”, are at least noteworthy for their uncommon ambition. I’m not sure, as I write this, whether or not I like “Lost in the World” but I am sure it’s the only hip-hop song I’ve ever heard to effectively steal from Imogen Heap.
Perhaps what I like the most about My Beautiful Dark Chocolate Candy Bar is what it has taught me about music and, corny as it is, myself. I often say that I keep an open mind about music and am willing to entertain the possibility that someone I generally don’t like will make an album I generally do like. But I’m not often given chances to prove it, and I’m actually quite glad that I genuinely like Kanye’s new album. As easy as it would be to bang out a thousand words on why I was justified in despising someone in the first place, it’s really a lot more fun for me to be surprised by an album. I don’t like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (I have to occasionally type the name correctly just to prove to myself that I can remember it) as much as I like High Violet, but I also like it a lot more than “It doesn’t suck as much as I thought it would.” It is really and truly a good record and I have a hard and fast rule at Bollocks! that says we must give credit where credit is due. So while this might be the only time I ever get to type the next two sentences, I am happy to do it:
Well done, Kanye West. Well done.