Kanye West - 808s and Heartbreak (Mercury)
05 Dec 2008
"this is like meeting a recent divorcee in the car park of a pub at closing time, before he drives home along the pavement... frequently uncomfortable listening, it's initially best approached sideways in case it kicks. if 808s and hearbreaks were any more heartfelt, kanye would have released his still-bleeding heart, which is thankfully a defunct format in this digital age..."; release - '08
As opposed to the lengthy gestation of previous offering Graduation, 808s and Heartbreak was recorded in a mere three weeks, thereby preventing any tempering of feeling. And boy does it show; this is like meeting a recent divorcee in the car park of a pub at closing time, before he drives home along the pavement. It's obviously the work of an angry, heartbroken perfectionist, one who lost his mother (also manager - dying following ill-advised plastic surgery) and split with his fiancé five months later: a hard time for anyone that no amount of posturing, success or wealth can disguise. This is frequently uncomfortable listening, and initially best approached sideways in case it kicks. If this were any more heartfelt he would have released his still-bleeding heart, which is thankfully a defunct format in this digital age.
For such great affairs of the heart, the album sticks to a mid-tempo groove and most clearly answers only to him - there's barely any rapping, rather half-spoken singing and a tendency to hide behind effects. It's not the first time he's used vocoder; the hip-hop mastery of 'Stronger' flowed it to bold effect, but this is so positively drenched in effects, pitch twiddling and auto-tune it would have been impossible to make ten years ago. Despite that there is something distinctly 80's here: in its consummate delivery, obvious use (and homage throughout to) the Roland 808 drum machine and elegantly sampling Tears for Fears on another mood lifter - 'Coldest Winter'. In that sense keeping it real is far from the agenda, but the content is so real perhaps it's for the best.
'Heartless' is an unflinchingly honest diatribe as to how he lost his soul to 'a' heartless woman. Its beats are reminiscent of Madonna's recent, and strangely distant, album (on which he appeared), describing how he has 'homies', but he's still lonely. It's about male growing up, the inevitable break up of not only the gang, but eventually with the women you left them for. Elsewhere, (on 'Bad News') he captures those ongoing moments during heartbreak, the daily shock though that your broken dreams don't make the teatime news-you sure as hell feel like nothing else has happened in the world. Thankfully the string arrangements, particularly on 'Robocop's refrain, sweeten the vitriol - in this case his tutting at the 'spoilt little LA girl'.
Strangely enough for such a personal album, it involves duets, presumably with people who weren't able to blurt "actually I've got plans this evening' quick enough, including our Mr Hudson (without his Library) who is now signed to West's label, a man who obviously had no choice, and is roped into the positive thinkathon 'Paranoid'. Actually it's bloody brilliant, a true mix of both talents, with Hudson's ska vibes over a slick R&B/house beat. Even the 808's are neglected for a moment.
Despite the obvious brilliance at play here, it's hard to imagine him performing this album in years to come. Like old diaries appear to be written by someone else, he may shy from its naked emotion and bitterness; and despite being magnificently brave, even he may one day regret the lack of editing. But what a title.