Monday, December 13, 2010

On the First Day of Gheorghe-mas Rolling Stone gave to me -- a number one song on a number one record, neither of which should be number one

On the First Day of Gheorghe-mas, Big Gheorghe gave to me ...

A Doofus Dancing (scroll down for the video)

As the most hackneyed member of G:TB's staff, I typically limit my posts to old photos and snivelling about the Bills. However, I received a request to review Kanye West's new album and I never refuse a request.

"My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" came out on November 22 with much pre-release hype, including some from me here. I eagerly awaited its arrival and I bought it from iTunes with my hard-earned electrons on the day it came out.

It's a great album. The production is impeccable, as one would expect from Kanye West. It's always dark, it's sometimes clever, and it's never cliched. That said, I disagree with Rolling Stone's declaration that it's the best album of 2010. I also disagree with Pitchfork's perfect 10 rating. I also disagree with Rolling Stone's decision to name "Runaway" the best single of the year.

I'll start with the low-hanging fruit. "Runaway" has some atrocious lyrics. For instance, he starts out with:

She find pictures in my email
I sent this bitch a picture of my dick
I don't know what it is with females
But I'm not too good at that shit

Very creative. He managed to squeeze "bitch," "dick," and "shit" into two bars. He also managed to use two words that don't rhyme right off the bat, but tries to get away with it by slurring his pronunciation of "dick" and "shit."

The chorus is much more inspired:

Let's have a toast for the douchebags,
Let's have a toast for the assholes,
Let's have a toast for the scumbags,
Every one of them that I know
Let's have a toast for the jerkoffs
That'll never take work off
Baby, I got a plan
Run away fast as you can

Brilliant lyricism. He rhymes two words that end in "bag" and "the jerkoffs" with "take work off."

I understand that the guys at RS at Pitchfork have different expectations than I do with regard to hiphop. And I appreciate "Runaway"'s production value. But it can't hold a lyrical candle to a lot of stuff made in the past 10 to 15 years. And if I went old school ... forget it.

Kanye is frequently off-key. No one really thinks about this, but effective rapping requires a modicum of singing (unless you use a monotone style like Guru or Jay-Z). Check it:

Fast forward to 2:19. He's off key; it's much worse elsewhere in the album. To compensate he leans on autotune. Around the 6:20 mark Kanye autotunes the hell out of his voice to the point where it's incomprehensible. The first time I listened I thougth it was a distorted sample of the bagpipes from "Untitled" by Neutral Milk Hotel.

I agree with Q-Tip: autotune is wack. And apparently so does Rolling Stone ... so long as it isn't a Kanye song.

Regarding "Runaway," RS says that "no other song was so crazily epic or jaw-droppingly gorgeous ...." Rolling Stone 1120/1121 at page 78. The same issue states that "Auto-Tune [is] played out." Id. at page 56 (regarding T-Pain, The Gregory Brothers, and Antoine Dodson). I don't know how to reconcile these statements, as about 2 minutes of "Runaway" is completely autotuned. In fact, just about every song on RS's #1 album of the year is autotuned. So why isn't MDBTF played out?

"Runaway" involves only two notes. Not two chords, but two notes. But it's "jaw-droppingly gorgeous"?

Other songs on MBDTF suffer from the same issues: off-key rapping, too much autotune, goofy lyrics, lyrics that only rhyme if the words are mispronounced. On "So Appalled," the chorus is "Man this shit is fuckin ridiculous, fuckin ridiculous." When you get Jay-Z, the RZA, and Swizz Beatz to do a song with you, you really owe it to them to come up with a better unifying theme for everyone's verse.

"Hell of a Life" starts off with a sample from either "Star Wars" or "Your Woman" by White Town, I'm not sure which. It's lyrically creative but Kanye is really off-key and there's too much autotune. Fast forward to 4:00.

"Lost in the World" is a giant pulsing lush club banger featuring the guy from Bon Iver, who is completely autotuned into a robot. What's the point of taking a guy who can actually sing and autotuning him? Stylistic gripes aside, you can't help but bob your head and put your hands up to this song. I can see this being a go-to dancefloor starter-upper for years. See what I mean? I told you I had a video of a doofus dancing!

Same thing with "Power," which isn't a surprise as it's the same formula he used on "Jesus Walks." Guaranteed frat party dance party material for the next decade.

"Gorgeous" is a damn good track, even with the autotuning. I wish Kid Cudi got a verse of his own instead of being relegated to the chorus, but Kanye had a lot to say and this may be his best vocal performance on the album. Raekwon surprisingly doesn't overshadow Kanye; it would have been nice if he got a bit more air time too.

You've probably already heard about how Nicki Minaj killed it on "Monster." I won't repeat everything everyone's already said, other than that I agree, she killed it.

MBDTF is arena-sized hugley forceful in-you-face power pop as filtered through the mind and ears of a tremendously talented 33-year-old black guy from Chicago. Almost as if Chromeo made an album with Quincy Jones. But this is the guy who made half of "The Blueprint" and "The College Dropout" and I expected something different than what I got. Perhaps if my expectations for this album were different I would appreciate it more.

"The College Dropout" amazed me. I love his sped-up soul hooks as much as I dislike autotune. He was pissed about his difficulty in getting a record deal and he took his anger out on the industry and everyone else who he perceived to have slighted him. Two tracks stand out to me in this regard. The first is "Jesus Walks," where he took the phattest beat he could make and rhymed about Jesus over top of it. No one raps about Christ. He essentially dared radio not to play a song about his piety. Radio had to play it because it was so damn good.

The other song is "Spaceship," which is absolutely brilliant. I've never heard anyone before or since spit in 3/4 time. He combined a sonically beautiful waltz with rageful lyrics. You should listen to the whole ting.

I'm not saying MBDTF is bad. Hell, I just wrote a thousand words about it. Kanye does not appear interested in making traditional hiphop, especially since he proved his doubters wrong over the past five years. At this point he simply wants to make hype beats and to sell lots of records. He is monstrously successful in both regards. I simply feel that this album is too incomplete and too contrived to be the best album I heard in 2010. I think Kanye can do better.

And 2010 isn't even over yet. "Apollo Kids" drops a week from today...


Dave said...

awesome! this review makes me forget that you are white. i still really like the album but can see the flaws-- hope the new ghostface is better than the last.

going down to the studio to finish up tomorrow's tune-- hope you go easier on it than kanye . . .

Dave said...

can we make a claymation special about saving "gheorghemas"?

zman said...

Only if Kanye scores the film.

Dave said...

pierre paul backflips going on.

Marls said...


Igor said...

If all you wanted for Gheorghemas was a barn-burner of a MNF game, you got rewarded on the very first day.