808s & Heartbreak: the Gimme Noise deathmatch
Round 1: David Hansen's left brain
What's the uproar? The arguments against this record seem to be arguments of pure principle, and rarely involve the actual sound of the album. On Heartbreak, West is clearly drawing from influences rarely echoed in pop music of his strata. The opener "Say You Will" finds Kanye reaching back to "Face Value"-era Collins, and the upbeat mid-album blip "Paranoid" finds Mr. West in even bolder territory, drawing on the glittery dance themes that populate every gay club's Saturday Night playlist.
Underscoring everything is the lyrical themes of the album. Even if the lamentations are counterfeit, they are such a close approximation of sincerity that drawing a distinction is splitting a tiny, absurd hair. When Beck went from Midnite Vultures to Sea Change, he was celebrated for his turn for the heartfelt, his abandonment of recondite irony for the sake of tender, emotive lyrics. But Mr. West is being decried as a maudlin opportunist, and, perplexingly, all at a time of admirable commercial abandonment. In other genres and with other performers, we tend to celebrate this kind of hairpin turn. Strange that Mr. West isn't reaping those dividends.
On the bottom line, this album sounds good, and as Duke Ellington famously quipped, "If it sounds good, it is good." Even Mr. West's reliance upon auto-tuner can be seen as an effective device. The album is about loneliness-- what's lonelier than a singing computer? Even if the album drags in places, it's a bold middle-finger to his fan base-- to have risked this kind of failure is commendable. Whenever a star of Mr. West's caliber shrugs off the expectations projected upon him, count me in.