Top critical review
The Elephant In The Room
on 28 November 2008
Any true assessment of the album cannot ignore `The Elephant In The Room' and that is Kanye cannot and will never be able to sing. Die hard fans will retort that people said the same thing about him rapping when he dropped his classic debut album "The College Dropout". My response to that is that singing is different. There's a reason why you never hear Quincy Jones sing although he is responsible for some of the greatest songs ever. The same is true for Diane Warren who has penned some modern classics, all, for other artists. That's because while rapping is a combination of one's ability with the pen as well as delivery (voice, breath control, swagger etc.), singing is all about talent (vocal range etc.)
Here's the point, Kanye West overstepped the line by releasing an album were he sings more than three quarters of it. The vocal distorter machine does not make up for his inability. T-Pain can sing and he uses the Vocoder as an enhancement. Kanye (and Lil' Wayne I should add) use it to disguise their limitations. For this reason, "808s & Heartbreak" is a failure in my view.
Now on with the review: K West must be commended for his boldness, he has 4 albums and no two sound alike. The same guy who produced `Swagger Like Us' this year also produced `Say You Will', two equally powerful songs that could not be more different, and that is the genius of the man. The production throughout the album is really top-notch, the approach is more electronic with fewer live instruments. The horns and samples that have characterized K West's sound over the years are abandoned in favour of pianos and 808 drums. The influences are 80s pop (`Paranoid') and rock (Coldplay, Radiohead etc). Traces of hip-hop are ever present because of the 808 drums but there are also songs that betray his hip-hop roots like `Amazing'. Even the way the lyrics are delivered walks the thin line between singing and rapping which is nothing new nowadays.
Thematically, Kanye sticks to the "Heartbreak" script pretty closely. It's unusual to here Kanye West without the comic outtakes and with the exception of the hilarious (unintentionally?) `Robocop', "Heartbreak" is a very serious affair. His EGO is also put aside as K West exposes his tender side. The trappings of fame (`Welcome To Heartbreak'), lost loves (`Coldest Winter') and broken relationships (`Heartless') are all explored here. For some reason, it's difficult to relate to this softer Kanye. He has spent the better part of 4years inflating his EGO to astronomic levels and the switch is just too drastic. I'm sure over time we'll be able to adjust to this Kanye, but for now it is tough.
Imagine if Kanye West had brought along all his rapping friends who can sing like Andre 3000, Cee-Lo, Mos Def and yes T-Pain too. If he had allowed them to take centre stage while he plays orchestrator. This album would have been so different, so much better