Kanye West’s New Album Is So Good We Can’t Even Come Up With A Dumb School-Related Pun

Aug 30th, 2007 // 32 Comments

graduation.jpgARTIST: Kanye West
TITLE: Graduation
WEB DEBUT: Aug. 30, 2007
RELEASE DATE: Sept. 11, 2007

ONE-LISTEN VERDICT: If the sluggish/cheesy singles and the ubquity of their equally cheesy viral videos made you worry for that the full-length would be similarly disappointing, Graduation (once again) reveals that Kanye West loves to try and bury near-stunning albums with weak lead-off tracks and exhausting pre-release hype. But while his extra-musical excesses (much-discussed temper tantrums, pandering to rock hipsters in the online press, ridiculous beef with lesser talents) can be deeply embarrassing–and not even enjoyably over-the-top–they don’t end up detracting from his talent at all. The albums end up doing huge numbers (either because of or in spite of these excesses), and the man does make great albums, rather than 18 tracks to be whittled into 10 or less on your iPod.

Graduation lacks the deep-burnt, Brion-assisted harmonic richness of Late Registration‘s more acoustic arrangements–notable exception: the “1940s Hollywood studio orchestra strings/rave Morse Code synth riff” beat of “Flashing Lights”–but makes up for that by covering more sonic ground than West ever has before. It’s like he’s trying to distance himself from those now totally irrelevant claims of being a ’90s rap throwback by radically tweaking his presets each time out. The electronic tinge of “Stronger” is indeed present throughout–though more adroitly than on that Daft clunker–but there’s also classic Kanye soul samples (“The Glory”), a stately piano-plunking Premier throwback with the man himself on the cut (“Everything I Am”), lifts from Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne” (“Champion”), and a completely improbable and intoxicated-sounding interpolation of Can’s “Sing Swan Song” (with the original running eerily underneath) that gets turned into a tongue-in-cheek tale of the perils of a night out–with a Mos Def coda. Even the much-dreaded Chris Martin collaboration is barely more than a hook that just happpens to be live rather than a sample, one where a subdued Martin (sounding vaguely like Police-era Sting) a lot less intrusive than on his similar turn with Jay-Z. Provided the lyrics (which I’m still digesting without the aid of that lyric booklet handed out at the listening party on Tuesday night in New York) don’t reveal themselves on repeated listens to be the “woe is me, for I am famous and worse, a genius” claptrap that I’ve read disconcerting things about (on blogs which did get a lyric sheet on Tuesday night) or more howlers like the chorus to “Stronger,” Graduation will be every bit the equal of West’s first two records.

THE BEST TRACK: Amazingly, given my usual feelings about Kanye’s choice of guest star here, I have to go with “Good Life,” such a perfectly assembled (if you don’t dig the way Kanye twists a potentially really obvious Michael Jackson sample into a squeaky hook [shades of "Right Here (Human Nature)" in its flippage] you will be summarily banned), looking good, feeling good, butt-loving, glossy, flossy pop song that feels totally of the moment without feeling like it’s pandering to the charts. Even with my nemesis T-Pain on the chorus. If it’s not the next choice for a single–according to Blender, where you can also hear the track, Kanye thought it was “too easy,” which just proves egotistical, autodidact genuises aren’t always the best judge of what the public really needs/wants–the label should sue Kanye for gross managerial incompetence. Oh, and it also has, in a deliciously dumb twist, a 50 Cent line as one of its hooks. Maybe it’ll drop to radio the week after Kanye hopefully–and rightfully, on the early evidence of Graduation–serves Fiddy his walking papers.

  1. KurticusMaximus

    Okay, but how is that album cover not in your Ugliest Album Cover Of The Year contest?

    It looks like a 90′s video game vomiting anime.

  2. Lucas Jensen

    I love that cover more than anything.

  3. CloudCarrier

    @KurticusMaximus: What, you don’t like Takashi Murakami? That’s a pretty apt description, if I’ve ever heard, of his work. But then again, I love seeing stuffed animals vomit marshmallows and piss little chunks of 8-bit graphics into each other’s mouths (only in a certain context, of course).

    The copyright statement above the parental advisory label is, somehow, even more awesome.

  4. MameDennis

    Oh, must I?

    It’s so good, you’d like to take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant.

    You’re welcome.

  5. The Mozfather

    Or Helena B-C’s comment from Fight Club: “I haven’t been fucked that good since grade school.”

    The cover is pretty awesome, actually.

  6. Chris Molanphy

    So not to call your review into question, because I so so so want this record to kick ass (and beat Fitty, etc.), but: In all my years of rockcrit I’ve never had to attend one of these group-grope listening parties. How pressured did you feel? Were the publicists working you hard?

    Believe me, I’m not one to cast aspersions - I probably forgive Kanye for more than you do (I actually liked “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” – well, the first version, anyway). I just really want to know how these events color one’s opinions of a record.

    I’m with you in the suspicious-of-T-Pain category, BTW.

  7. Maura Johnston

    @dennisobell: Jess wasn’t there, but I was. And there was no pressure at all; we were all seated in a theater, and there was a light show. A few of the songs had video accompaniments that were not unlike the tribute videos Kate reviews (“Stronger” had footage from Akira to go with it, “Drunk And Hot Girls” had some anime porn (the first time I’d ever seen that, oh boy)). Then Kanye came out and took questions. Oh, and Ilan from Top Chef was there.

    I’d actually never been to a major-label listening session before. I suspect others aren’t like this, nor do they have rum-spiked blueberry smoothies.

  8. Jess Harvell

    i actually didn’t go to the listening party, but maura did. this was from listening in the comfort of my own home this a.m./afternoon.

  9. spinachdip

    @maura: To let Tom Breihan describe it,

    Most listening parties are held in dimly-lit recording studios or bare conference rooms, and if you’re lucky they’ll bring in a couple of bottles of liquor and a tray of chicken. Kanye does things bigger than that. He rented out an entire off-Broadway theater, a really elaborate and expensive-looking spot that I had no idea existed. Bags of popcorn sat on tables in the lobby, and the bartenders served alcoholic milkshakes along with beer and wine;

  10. stix

    Why is this the leak of the day and not ‘Curtis’?

  11. stix

    I should clarify, I don’t really have an opinion either way about these guys….but both leaking the same day has been golden for my Oink ratio :D

  12. Maura Johnston

    @femstix: Because I didn’t find out that Curtis leaked until, um, five seconds ago.

  13. Chris Molanphy

    @maura, @jessdolator: Thanks for the explanation and the recap.

    To support your core point (“the man does make great albums, rather than 18 tracks to be whittled into 10 or less on your iPod”), I recently discovered when dialing it up on my iPod that Late Registration is one of the few recent hip-hop albums to hold up, maybe even improve, with age. It totally reads as an album, which still kind of blows my mind. (I love College Dropout too, but that one can be broken up to some extent, IMHO; Late is where he and Brion perfected the coherent-album thing.)

    Glad to see Kanye’s holding himself up to the same standard.

  14. Juancho

    I’ve heard horror stories of the listening “party”. Granted, this was a little more DIY, indie-thing, glad to see it’s changing.

  15. Bazooka Tooth

    uh, anyone care to point me in the right direction? wink wink nod nod

  16. blobby

    “Stronger” has actually grown on me with repeated listenings, although that might be because I have no particular attachment to the Daft Punk song, having not started actually listening to music yet. (I was in middle school, cut me some slack.)

  17. spinachdip

    @Aquemini: I’m thinking of a phrase that sounds like “shit current”.

  18. Anonymous

    @jessdolator: Ah. Nice reference in that context — loved “Right Here,” but Kanye does do it better.

  19. Anonymous

    Jess: As someone who listened and line danced to “Thriller” over and over and over again until my parents wanted to either kill themselves or me (hey, I was 13), that’s not “Human Nature” Kanye’s sampling; it’s “PYT.”

  20. jopari actually likes the G1, thank you very much.

    Listening now. Liking it. There’s a few cheese lines (“How many women in the house/how many women in the house without a spouse/something in your blouse got me feeling so aroused”) but that’s to be expected from Kanye. I think Good Life is kinda weak (I definitely wouldn’t compare it to “Golddigger”, as some have), but it’ll be a solid second single. I’m only halfway thorough, but I recommend the album. So far it’s a solid release.

  21. Anonymous

    @KurticusMaximus: I was wondering the same. Personally, I really like it.
    The inital comments at Nah Right were hilarious.

  22. BigGil

    Ok, I don’t know what you all are listening to but this album is not worth the hard drive space it took for me to download this trash last night. The ONLY thing on it that’s worthy of being called a hint above “purely boring” is ‘Big Brother’ (and maybe after it grows on you ‘Drunk and Hot Girls’). Don’t waste your time and/or money on this. I was HIGHLY disappointed. Late Registration was a 9, College Dropout was a 7 and this is a 2 plain and simple. Unfortunately 50 is pretty much a lock to win this battle if he does anything more than simply fart over 18 different beats on his album.

  23. Jess Harvell

    @broad: yeah, i know. (it says as much on that blender entry i linked to if nothing else.) the “human nature” ref was more me getting a similar feel from “good life” as i did from “right here” in terms of making a very well known (as part of the 1 kazillion people who are steeped in thriller) mj sample feel…if not less obvious than at least a good look.

  24. gorillavsmarykate

    @BigGil: CUUUUUUUUURRRRRTTTTIIIIIISSSS!!!

    Yeah, and Kanye picks his nose, and one time I saw him eat his boogers. I SWEAR! And my friend Liz went on a date with him once, and he tried to hold her hand and kiss it. EWW! How lamerz is that?

  25. BigGil

    @ GORILLAVSMARYKATE:

    Nah, I’m definitely not a 50 loving flunky follower like some of you all appear to be for Kanye. Notice, nothing in my comment was based on image, personality, marketing, style or any other superficial, meaningless and contrived. I base my praise and more importantly my purchases on the music..nothing more nothing less. So either refute something I said on an adult, well thought-out level or go back into your corner. And I’m the one who’s lame??? Come on now. Step your game up.

  26. Bazooka Tooth

    @spinachdip: yeah, I don’t really know how bit torrent works, actually. But, I already found it, listened to it, yawned, and deleted it (except for ‘Stronger’– that song is great).

  27. Bazooka Tooth

    @BigGil: yeah, man, I am not feeling this one either, pretty weak, i thought. Even weaker considering its Kanye.

  28. GiantPanda

    holy fuck that cover is terrible. terrible. the illustration is cool, but holy fuck is it as a cd cover…

  29. GiantPanda

    there is a ‘terrible’ missing in there somewhere…

  30. spinachdip

    @Aquemini: Not digging it after a couple of spins either. Then again, I hated Late Registration on the first listen too, and now I love it.

  31. DJGee

    Just heard about the Knaye leak on GlobalGrind.com. People have even been e-mailing links to download it. I haven’t heard it though, don’t want to until the album drops…and I could care less if I ever hear 50′s.

  32. Anonymous

    This is an old topic, but Kanye did not sample “Human Nature” for his track “Good Life”. The sample was from “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)”. Just a lil’ F.Y.I.

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