Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Notes on 808s & Heartbreak

Posted By on 12.02.08 at 07:36 PM

click to enlarge 4109.jpg

1. Let's get the Auto-Tune conceit out of the way first. This is an album about separation and emotional distance, about the failure of honesty and emotion; it's a poignant artistic choice. And doubly so because it highlights his shortcomings in an album about same.

2. The weird crappy live track. The album closes with a badly recorded live freestyle called "Pinocchio Story," in which he plaints about wanting to be a real boy leading a real life. It sounds like a bootleg. Scott Plagenhoef dismisses it as a wtf curiosity, and coming at the end of such a shimmering, perfectly cold album it's a surprise. But it's still of a piece with the record, even on the level of its production.

If the Auto-Tune is about creating a distance between West and himself, the bootleggy quietude of "Pinocchio Story" is about creating distance between himself and the audience, regressing into the smallness of the sound. It's chilling, the sound of him walking away, or just disappearing.

3. Does he have anything interesting to say? Not a lot. It's a breakup album. The one exception is "Amazing," my favorite song on the album (I am probably alone in this). As you might suspect from the title, it starts as a paean to himself: It's amazing / I'm the reason / Everybody [is] fired up this evening... And no matter what you'll never take that from me / My reign is as far as your eyes can see / It's amazing, so amazing etc. But then it shifts and reframes the chorus: I'm a monster, I'm a killer / I know I'm wrong... And no matter what you'll never take that from me. And in the third verse: I'm the only thing I'm afraid of

In short, it's about West discovering his capacity for wrath over a slouching-towards-Bethlehem beat, and being amazed by it, and the way he shifts the definition of the title with the verses is an example of the offhand profundity I listen to pop music for.

Young Jeezy's verse sucks, though.

4. What does it sound like? West claims Phil Collins as an influence, but it also reminded me of Brian Eno's work with David Byrne. Cyndi Lauper (cf.)? The percussion is ridiculous on this album. Portishead? (Though there's nothing as ambitiously raw as "Machine Gun." )

5. Is there anything on the album better than "Gone" from Late Registration? No. "Gone" is still his best song.

6. What's the best song? Well, "Love Lockdown" is a solid jam, as has already been well-established; it's your safest choice. I'm going to go with "RoboCop," because I like things that try to do too much, even when they fail; things that are a bit off. On a chilly, careful album, it's the only thing that sounds legitimately, honestly weird--over an aggro Portishead beat, West adds a pretty string quartet and relentlessly cheery, major-key vocals which are creepily sophomoric. Not metasophomoric like Eminem, but actually pretty childish. It's kind of psycho.

West crooning "you need to stop it now... you need to stop it now" over candy-coated strings sounds paradoxically angrier than anything else on a slow-burning album.

7. Is it good? I'll confess I don't have a lot of desire to listen to the beginning or the end much, but "Amazing" through "RoboCop" is great.

8. Bonus: Is the Pantone strip on the cover awesome? Yes, it is.

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