I know exactly what my grandfather would have thought of Kanye West’s new album. “That’s not music,” he would have said, and turned it off as soon as humanly possible.
I envy that sort of clarity, because I myself have no idea what to make of Yeezus, as bizarre a document of the workings of the human mind as you’re likely to encounter here in the late-mid-early 21st century. Kanye is one of the most divisive faultlines running through today’s culture, and I am generally pro rather than anti; I respect him because I feel like he’s trying to express himself truly and honestly — however freakish the results may be. But with Yeezus he has taken a turn into uncharted territory.
Kanye is on top of the world right now. He’s rich and famous. He can do whatever he wants. And what he wants, apparently, is to make an album that’s equal parts NWA, Devo, Throbbing Gristle, and Public Enemy (with a little Jackson 5 thrown in for good measure), package it in an empty jewel case, “design” a white T-shirt that sells for $120, get Kim Kardashian pregnant, name the baby girl “North West,” and…well, who knows what else?
Excess is Kanye’s idiom, though in some ways Yeezus seems like a reaction to the sprawling excessiveness of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: minimal packaging, just 10 tracks, clocking in at an economical 40 minutes. But this is not exactly an acoustic folk album we’re talking about here. Yeezus is noisy, caustic, confrontational, and completely uncompromising. (Just the title for starters — not to mention that the song titles include “New Slaves,” “Black Skinhead,” and “I Am a God.”) It it so far over the top that it short-circuits my critical faculties, and so as seems to be the pattern with Kanye, I find myself casting about for authoritative-sounding opinions that I can glom onto.
Fortunately, no less an authority than Lou Reed, who apparently listened to Yeezus while recuperating from his liver transplant, recently weighed in with a review on The Talkhouse. Lou is a fan:
The guy really, really, really is talented. He’s really trying to raise the bar. No one’s near doing what he’s doing, it’s not even on the same planet.
His praise comes with a few qualifications, but is pretty effusive in the end:
It works. It works because it’s beautiful — you either like it or you don’t — there’s no reason why it’s beautiful. I don’t know any musician who sits down and thinks about this. He feels it, and either it moves you too, or it doesn’t, and that’s that. You can analyze it all you want.
Well said, Mr. Reed. What can I add to that, really? No more time for analysis today — things to do, places to go, people to see. Read Lou’s whole review, or read this piece on The Atlantic; then have a listen and tell me what you think.