December 18, 2008
Record Review: 808’s & Heartbreak
808′s & Heartbreak
2008 | Roc-A-Fella
The title to Kanye West’s latest release, 808′s and Heartbreaks refers to the TR-808, one of the first programmable drum machines. Kanye West used the TR-808 on every track “for a more ‘tribal drum’ to add more tribal feeling to his music” according to Wikipedia. The Heartbreak part of the title is more obvious, especially with songs like “Bad News”, “Welcome to the Heartbreak”, “Heartless” and “The Coldest Winter” (which unfortunately is a shameless rip-off of Tears for Fears’ “Memories Fade”). Not to say it’s all despair. On “Paranoid,” 808’s most solid track, it’s obvious West is smiling throughout. And how can you not with the canned drum beats and Stevie Wonder-esque synth?
You have to admire Kanye West for taking chances with his audience. Even though he’s gained enough success and notoriety to be allowed leeway, he’s still a taking a risk with 808’s and Heartbreaks. But isn’t that what good artists do? They take chances; they take risks, stepping outside their comfort zone despite the outcome. Listening to “Streetlights,” a song more alternative than hip-hop or even soul, one can tell that West is testing new waters. Still, he always manages to keep his “artistic expression” within the confines of pop music, which will hopefully keep fans and listeners of radio friendly (read: boring) music reigned in.
Not to say that artistic expression doesn’t have its flaws. The overuse of the Autotune effect on practically every track (something that my co-worker forewarned me about) adds nothing to the songs except an overwhelming desire to smack T-Pain for bringing it to the forefront. “Say You Will” could have been cut at three and a half minutes but instead drones on for six. Both “Amazing” and “See You in My Nightmare” suffer from uninspired vocal performances despite their driving beat. Lyrics like “Standin’ at my podium / Tryin’ to watch my sodium” or “You think your shit don’t stink but you’re Mrs. P.U.” are also rather questionable.
Although the venture into new musical territory is commendable, I’m unsure if 808’s and Heartbreaks will have any lasting effect on the world of pop music. As an experiment, perhaps, but 808’s and Heartbreaks could just as easily disappear among the rest. And as a side note, whoever did the album art/liner notes deserves a good thrashing. It’s totally indecipherable.
by Justin Weingartner