The exciting thing about reviewing an album like ‘Yeezus’ is that like Kanye West himself, it’s bound to get a strong reaction, whether you praise or damn the album, with those on each side making their voices heard loudly. The following review is one of praise for the unique brilliance of this release.
There have been so many articles and reviews on this album it’s enough to make your head spin. Hell, even rock and roll legend and Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed weighed in on it with what is in this music journalist’s opinion the perfect review. His view on the album pretty much reflects my own position exactly. Basically, the music and production is incredible, raw and unique while many of the lyrics are awful bordering on embarrassing, but with enough clever or enjoyable lines to outweigh the bad.
Mr. West’s last solo album, ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ was incredibly dense, layered and grandiose, like a velvety and feverish hip hop dream. It was easily one of the best releases of 2010 and arguably his most impressive release to date. His joint venture with Jay-Z, ‘Watch The Throne,’ felt like more of the same type of production, its decadence reflected in its flashy album cover.
‘Yeezus’ on the other hand is comparatively stripped down with much more grinding, mechanical beats. Some have called it Industrial and they wouldn’t be wrong—the first three songs “On Sight,” “Black Skinhead,” and “I Am A God,” have glitchy, mechanical beats that could be mistaken for Nine Inch Nails beats.
Yes, he does say some chuckle-worthy things such as “hurry up with my damn croissants,” that betray the lyrics’ thrown-together nature but then there’s socially/racially charged but thought-provoking lyrics like those on “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves” that make you realize that behind all the bragging there’s a man in turmoil—and everyone knows turmoil makes for some fantastic art.
These first four songs are so strong and of high quality that it makes the rest of the album feel a little more hit and miss. “Hold My Liquor” sounds like a mix between the brashness of ‘Twisted Fantasy’ and the exposed nerves of ‘808s.’ Don’t get used to this sensitive side of Kanye though, because next track “I’m In It” is the most overtly sexual song of his career with some wince-inducing lines and some cool yet unintelligible reggae ranting.
The strange juxtapositions continue with “Blood on the Leaves.” Using Nina Simone’s cover of “Strange Fruit,” a song addressing racially motivated violence is the backdrop for a story about drug use, pondered abortions and painful breakups. On paper it sounds awful, but it’s so crazy that it actually works incredibly well and makes for one of the most haunting songs of his career.
“Guilt Trip” has been slagged by many, but for some reason, this song really resonates with me. More of the auto-tune singing and emotions of ‘808s’ but with a creepy, screwed and chopped chorus that sounds like Witch house.
From here things get a little more familiar, with “Send It Up” sounding like something that could have been on ‘GOOD Music/Cruel Summer’ with fairly typical rap lyrics and braggadocio, with the addition of more reggae singing. The final song, “Bound 2” is the only song that sounds like the Kaye West of old, using chipmunk-sounding soul samples and actually tells a fairly sweet love story. It almost seems thrown in as reminder that yes, this is still the same Kanye. With that this strange journey comes to an end. At a lean 10 tracks, the album feels over too soon, which is a great thing because it makes you want to listen to it again.
This album deserves recognition and respect for its attempt to take his sound in a new direction. After the over-the-top opulence on the display in much of his work of late, this felt like a complete 180 with the comparatively stripped down production. Thank legendary producer Rick Rubin for helping him realize this vision. While there’s a few misogynistic and cheesy lyrics here and there, for the most part he sounds hungrier and angrier than he’s been in a long time, taking time to address difficult issues like on “New Slaves.” One can only hope he continues the experimentation and pushes his art into new and exciting directions. Yes, it’s different and difficult compared to the catchiness of ‘College Dropout,’ but in the words of his “Big Brother” Jay Z, “…want my old shit, buy my old albums.”
Written By Jarad Matula
OurVinyl | Senior Writer