ARTIST: Kanye West
TITLE: 808s & Heartbreak
RELEASE DATE: Nov. 24, 2008
WEB DEBUT (IN FULL): Nov. 19, 2008
ONE-LISTEN VERDICT: Like some other listeners, I put off listening to the many leaked component parts from the fourth album by Chicago’s second-favorite son until the entire thing arrived intact. Why spoil things, especially since unlike the just-linked Robert Myers, I haven’t been anything like a fan of the stuff I’d been hearing. “Love Lockdown” struck me as a cross between lousy Junior Boys and tolerable T-Pain, meaning nothing I’d ever reach for on my own, for pleasure. So I’m not a bit surprised that 808s & Heartbreak is basically 52 minutes of the same. (Or only 46 minutes, if the leak’s bonus track, a useless live “freestyle” recorded in Singapore called “Pinocchio Story,” isn’t included, as the album’s Amazon listing currently indicates.) While Kanye gets huge credit for having the guts to swerve completely away from that which made him famous, most of these songs seem like gussied up demos he made with his new toys, not a commanding change of direction. It’s not even terrible, which might give it more rubbernecking value; it’s just not especially there, which if you’re gonna pull an artistic about-face you really do need to have. Instead, songs like “Say You Will” and “Welcome to Heartbreak” crossbreed latter-day Autotune&B and frosty neo-electro with a healthy dollop of high-fructose corn syrup, and it does no one any real favors. Fearless prediction: this thing’s gonna get sold back more than any other Christmas-timed release of 2008, including Guns N’ Roses.
THE BEST TRACK: When you’re dealing with what is essentially a novelty record, go for the funniest track. In this case, that’s “RoboCop,” from its chase-scene-in-an-8-bit -video-game intro beat to the lyric, which makes liberal references to movies that predate Kanye’s high school graduation (“Just looking at your history / You’re like the girl from Misery“). And yes, the lulz are on purpose.