It seems to be redundant to review an album after it’s already topped several “Album of the Year” charts (Stereogum, Rolling Stone, Spin, and, as I just read, The A.V. Club), but what the hell, I don’t have anything else readily available.
On all accounts, My Beautiful Twist…wait, My Dark and Beautif, goddammit, that’s not right either, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy should have been a disaster. Kanye’s last album, the frigid 808’s & Heartbreak turned a lot of people off, then there was that whole VMA thing, and last month Matt Lauer thought it’d be fun to pick up the Bush/Katrina/racism thing long past the point of anyone caring. Combine that public pressure with Kanye’s maximalist mentality, and we could be listening to an overstuffed disaster.
Instead, we got an overstuffed masterpiece. MBDTF is as massive as its title suggests; tasteful samples, Auto-Tune choirs, an ensemble of guest performers (on one song, mind you), opulent production, and a three minute vocoder solo all find their way onto one of the most ambitious albums of 2010. Kanye and cast pulled out all the stops for this one; there’s not a low-ambition moment from opener “Dark Fantasy” to the Gil Scott-Heron speech of “Who Will Survive in America”. Were it not for Kanye’s artistic savvy, Fantasy would fall flat on its face.
Look at the collaborations. Kid Cudi sounds awake on “Gorgeous” and contributes a slow and steady chorus to back some of Kanye’s most furious rapping, and both are better as a result (as is Raekwon’s verse). John Legend and, I kid you not, Chris Rock contribute to “Blame Game”; a song that inspires both tears and laughs in the same minute. More impressively there’s “Monster”, where Nicki Minaj gives her best performance and upstages a host of collaborators, Bon Iver, Kanye, and Jay-Z among them. “All of the Lights” is an unquestioned high point on an album filled with them: the production is solid, Kanye is on fire, and his supporting cast (including Rihanna, Elton John, Alicia Keys, and Kid Cudi, and that’s not half of it) put in a great performance.
But this is very much Kanye’s show. He was at the helm of Fantasy‘s production, and truly nothing was off limits. The orchestral interlude before “All of the Lights” is a pretentious idea made enjoyable in execution, and when some of those elements come back in the proper song, the result is epic. “POWER” is nearly five minutes of pump-up punctured with stabs of a King Crimson sample, and “So Appalled”‘s dark production mimics the “SMH” tone conveyed in its lyrics. And a big reason that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a bombastic success is that Kanye West knows who Kanye West is. He’s the type of guy who justifies having a nine minute long song “Runaway”, and the Michael Jackson-esque 35 minute long video that goes with it. And the song totally succeeds; it’s musically gorgeous, lyrically a high quality “I’m sorry”, and even the outro’s a good listen. West is so convincing and compelling throughout the whole album, too. On “POWER”, he sounds like he’s honest to God having fun, he’s a wanderer on “Lost in the World”, and “Blame Game”is more isolated and alone than anything on 808s.
As ridiculous as it was when he first tweeted it, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the perfect title for this look inside Kanye. The music and production are breath-taking even as instrumentals. Kanye takes a good, hard look at his and some of culture’s darkest qualities, all while being at his technically best rapping. There’s a synergy of acoustic and electronic music here, and a whole lot of vocal manipulation (check the Bon Iver sample on “Lost in the World”) that wouldn’t work at all if Kanye hadn’t overreached like this. Kanye wanted Fantasy to be his Thriller, a feat that just culturally just won’t happen again. But damn if he won’t try. Five stars.
tl;dr: Five stars and one of the best albums of the year.