Kanye West Brings The (T-) Pain

Nov 19th, 2008 // 19 Comments

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.


  1. Chris Molanphy

    Bummer. I was actually coming around to the idea that this might surprise me on the upside. Sounds like it’s exactly as I feared when it was announced 2-3 months ago.

  2. MayhemintheHood

    He needs Jon Brion.

  3. the rich girls are weeping

    Oh, Matos, you spoilsport! I was totally in love with “Love Lockdown,” and now the scales have fallen from my eyes.


  4. the rich girls are weeping

    …which is to say, I’m huffily scouring my iPod for So This is Goodbye

  5. ZipZapZopZoup

    Pinocchio Story is listed on iTunes as their exclusive track. Guess that indicates where this leak came from, huh?

    I dig this, by the way. It’s not great, and it may not have the replay value of his other records, but it’s fun.

  6. Nunya B

    I would rather have heard Good-Ass Job. Not one of the Kanye songs I’ve heard from this era have been anything more than a C+.

  7. Anonymous

    @MayhemintheHood: Naw, he’s done plenty of great stuff w/o Brion. He just needs to get over this phase and get back to making bangers.

  8. Dan Gibson

    Other than his apparently artistically crippling hubris, I really have no idea what possessed Kanye to release this album. No idea at all.

  9. AquaLung

    Yeah, it’s a pretty deflating listen.

    I applaud him for the risk-taking concept, and think it’s kind of awesome that a male, mainstream hip-hop artist actually acknowledged he has emotions beyond lust, anger and greed- but this thing gets old real quick.

  10. MayhemintheHood

    @Maciej: Yeah, he totally has done cool stuff by himself. I’m just thinking that he needs another head in the studio with him to help him get back to the bangers, and Jon Brion would be an obvious choice. The line about “gussied up demos he made with his new toys” is totally right on.

  11. Lucas Jensen

    I’m actually feeling a lot of these songs, so maybe I’m crazy. I like that he took a chance. Listen, Beck gets to put out deviations here and there, and everybody lauds him for it, even if they don’t necessarily feel them. I think Kanye deserves the same latitude.

  12. Rock You Like An Iracane

    If you haven’t heard the remix of “Amazin’” Novel and whoever produces for Novel cranked out the day after that leaked, well, you’re missing that there will still be great beats on this album.

  13. the rich girls are weeping

    @Lucas Jensen: I was tromping back into this thread to basically make the same comment, minus the Beck reference.

    I think what interests me most here is that this mode of production jumped from semi-underground to very mainstream pretty quickly — it’s certainly something I never expected to hear from someone as utterly mainstream as Kanye, and that, at least, pleases me greatly.

  14. westartedthis

    @Dan Gibson: i think it’s one of the worst records released by a major artist in a very long time. it’s Dylanesque – in a bad way.

  15. brandonsoderberg

    This album’s a boner kill, but it’s basically working with the sound and formula and not-there-ness that’s sent so many “indie” bands to the top of critics’ lists…if say, The Knife or the last Radiohead were interesting to a listener, they SHOULD like this.

  16. westartedthis

    and Buckcherry are working with the same sound and formula as the Rolling Stones, but brother, it don’t make them the Stones.

  17. Anonymous

    Man, i think the first 8 tracks of this album are all good to great. Gonna make great enjoying-being-lonely-and-drunk-on-a-night-plane-ride music for sure!

  18. Chris N.

    Well, he’s got balls.

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