Kanye West is back with another exercise in messianic myth-making. It's equal parts compelling and repellent but it's also great fun
Kanye West’s second new arrival of the week comes in the form of his sixth album, a bratty, petulant and funny collection of songs that address themes of racism, fear of commitment, sex, and the unbearable lightness of, well, being Kanye West - all to the sound of hyperventilating, caterwauling EDM, brash synth barrages, soul samples, and soppy vocoder moments.
Even at a short 40 minutes and with guest appearances from Daft Punk, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Frank Ocean, it is an exhausting listen but it is never, ever dull and that’s what makes Yeezus so damn entertaining.
Equally parts compelling and repellent, offensive and strangely charming, West cracks his rich boy psyche wide open once again and invites the world to have a look. Yeezus is his very own dirty (mouthed) protest against the inequities of . . . well, the inequities of what? West has made a spectacle of himself as the upper-middle class black boy who is as petulant as he is eccentric and there’s little sign of that changing on Yeezus.
“I am a god, I am a god . . . hurry up with my damn massage, get the Porsche out of the garage . . . “ he offers on I am A God, which naturally “features God”; or how about this for a sign of early mid-life crisis jitters: “Uh, got the kids and a wife life/Uh, but can’t wake up from the nightlife.” Seems the boy has already got angst in his pants about his new-found domestic bliss with the bewildering Kim Kardashian and their freshly-hatched baby, North (cool name by the way).
West doesn’t do romance; he does romangst. So what really intrigues about him these days is the conflict he feels between remaining a playa but settling into his new responsibilities as a family man. This being West, those kind of concerns will not be played out in intimate, whispered laments but delivered like a hectoring sermon from the Mount. He compares himself to Deepak Chopra on the mournful electro blues of Hold My Liquor and if that wasn’t enough, he quotes MLK when he liberates a girl from her dress on I’m In It.
Even more audaciously, he then samples the Holy Grail that is Strange Fruit for Blood on The Leaves and presses it into service in a song that is actually an extended gripe about the fact that he can’t sit with his current girlfriend at a basketball game because his ex is in the vicinity.
LOL indeed. As usual, The sex songs make old school Prince sound like Lionel Richie but West is best when he forgets his crotch and engages his brain on excellent anti-racism rants like New Slaves and Black Skinhead. Twenty years ago, Messrs T and Ice used half-tongue-in-cheek gun-toting machismo to make their point; West chooses the weapons of ridicule and satire.
On the relentless and brilliant Black Skinhead he gets so damn agitated about casual racism (“stop all the coon shit, that early morning cartoon shit”) and oppressive religion that he ends the song panting “god . . . god . . . god” in exasperation. It’s a genuinely riveting moment.
Following the operatic My Dark Twisted Fantasy and his heavyweight bout with Jay-Z on the hugely successful Watch The Throne, West continues to build his myth with Yeezus. He also sounds all too convinced of his own genius. West is no genius but he remains a very interesting and musically daring car crash of a pop star.