Far be it for me to hang around with the popular kids, but the internet seems full these past couple of days with opinion on Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, culminating in a sort of collective music journalist meltdown in the face of Pitchfork awarding the album a fabled 10.0 rating.

Far be it for me to hang around with the popular kids, but the internet seems full these past couple of days with opinion on Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, culminating in a sort of collective music journalist meltdown in the face of Pitchfork awarding the album a fabled 10.0 rating.



Listening to the record, it’s easy to see what the fuss is about: “…Dark Twisted Fantasy” is a dream of a record to write about. The suspicion remains that people will ultimately spend a lot more time discussing it than actually playing the great bloated, preposterous thing. It’d doubtless be good journalistic practise to join the party and try and make sense of it, apply some thought-through insight to the sprawl, but right now, it feels easier to embrace the incoherence and string together a bunch of thoughts/responses to what, somewhat surprisingly, I’m finding to be the best Kanye record since “Late Registration”. Not the hardest achievement, perhaps, but I had more or less given up on him…

1. I was talking to someone the other day about Bryan Ferry’s “Olympia”, and the surfeit of guests. I mentioned that speculative game of choosing your ideal dinner party guests, dead or alive, in the hope of an evening’s sparkling wit and repartee. “Olympia”, I thought, proves the fallacy of the concept: pack enough genius in one place, and they’ll effectively cancel each other out into a low murmur of polite chit-chat.

“…Dark Twisted Fantasy” makes me think of a variation on this theme. The fantasy dinner party guests, whoever they might be, have all taken a load of cocaine and not bothered to eat anything, but are still aggressively praising the host for the quality of their cooking. I’m aware this doesn’t sound great.

2. To make matters worse, a recent record this reminds me of is Sufjan Stevens’ “The Age Of Adz”; desperately stretched neurotic maximalism, in which a fundamentally talented artist expands his ideas to such a crazed degree that it’s hard to pick out what made them good in the first place.

3. Among the busloads of guests is the fragrant La Roux, who told The Guardian last year, “People don’t just want R&B girls thrusting their groins at them. It gave me hope.” On “All Of The Lights”, Elly Jackson features in a chorus that also includes Rihanna and Fergie; singer, of course, of “My Humps”. Good to see that dismal hypocrisy is another reason for me to dislike La Roux. Next year, she’s scheduled to appear on Dr Dre’s “Retox”.

4. Like virtually everyone who’s written about this album – including all my brothers and sisters who have as shaky a working knowledge of Nicky Minaj as I do – I have to say that Minaj’s verse on “Monster” is phenomenal. “…Dark Twisted Fantasy” generally strives to impress through bombast rather than visceral excitement, but her schizophrenic section really is the exception that proves the rule.

5. I think we should probably stop going on about Bon Iver as that lovesick folk guy in a snowbound hut, because increasingly – not least thanks to his involvement with Gayngs – it’s clear that he quite fancies himself as an R&B balladeer. West’s penchant for using his lovely voice autotuned – as per the reworked sample from “The Woods” which anchors “Lost In The World” – conceivably makes Justin Vernon this album’s equivalent of Mr Hudson. But the way the track morphs into “Who Will Survive In America”, moving from Bon Iver to Gil Scott-Heron, is pretty rousing. Not sure, as on many other occasions, quite what point West is trying to make here – “Imagine: the business of state is bigger than even I am, perhaps?”
Talking of Bon Iver, incidentally, his influence seems to be spreading into some odd places: the debut album from dubstep guy James Blake features the producer letting go, in a voice much like Justin Vernon’s, over very minimal electronic spaces.

6. Much of the sensational “Devil In A New Dress” reminds me of why I liked the first Kanye records (and especially his “Blueprint”-era productions for Jay-Z) so much. Playback, pitchshifted soul – in this case a Smokey Robinson sample. My favourite track today, along with maybe “Monster”.

7. Quite a lot of West’s rapping and rhyming seems to have become worse as he’s become more famous; it may, though, be a bit optimistic to imagine he’ll start rapping about folding sweaters in Gap anytime soon.

8. Another unappetising comparison: West’s blend of self-analysis, neediness and conceit reminds me of Robbie Williams. “Runaway” is ostensibly a mawkish dissection of his own emotional incompetence. Read another way, though, all the pointed ‘honesty’ feels like it has a more disingenuous purpose: “Look at me, see how I’m brave enough to expose my failings – aren’t I great for doing that, too?”

9. It’d be pretty churlish of me not to be intrigued, at the very least, in a hip hop album that samples Black Sabbath, The Aphex Twin, Mike Oldfield and “21st Century Schizoid Man”. Although, of course, it’s probably just part of West’s assiduous professional seduction; a desire for capital-S Seriousness that can backfire on him. In the words of RZA during “So Appalled”, “This shit is fucking ridiculous!”

Then again, there’s also something noble, if hopelessly vain and self-important, about attaching so much gravity to your own album, making it seem an – albeit inarticulate – major statement. Will he suddenly expand the musical expectations of a generation of pop fans? Or is ludicrous grandiosity merely something which is a necessary point on the career arc of most mainstream superstars? And will I be playing this in a year’s time, or even a month’s?

10. Probably not, or at least not all of it. If a lot of the pomp-pop choruses, so syrupy, were wiped off, it might be a different story. But the whole thing is certainly stimulating, in a way in which I’ve found few other commercially ‘big’ records in the past year or two.

11. Re-reading my copy before I post, I find I kept getting “…Dark Twisted Fantasy”’s title wrong. In the spirit of Westian over-analysis, what’s the significance of that?
I guess maybe it’s not a great title.