When Kanye West sings about “jerk-offs that’ll never take work off,” you’d best believe he means himself. Being crazy is this guy’s job, and judging from the sound of his music, business is booming. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is his most maniacally inspired music yet, coasting on heroic levels of dementia, pimping on top of Mount Olympus. Yeezy goes for the grandeur of stadium rock, the all-devouring sonics of hip-hop, the erotic gloss of disco, and he goes for all of it, all the time. Nobody halfway sane could have made this album.
Last time, Kanye went minimal for the electro melancholia of 808s & Heartbreak. But on Fantasy, he gets ridiculously maximal, blowing past all the rules of hip-hop and pop, even though, for the past half-decade, he’s been the one inventing the rules. There are hip-hop epics, R&B ballads, alien electronics, prog-rock samples, surprise guests from Bon Iver to Fergie to Chris Rock, even a freaking Elton John piano solo. It’s his best album, but it’s more than that — it’s also a rock-star manifesto for a downsizing world. At a time when we all get hectored about lowering our expectations, surrendering our attention spans, settling for less, West wants us to demand more.
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Nobody else is making music this daring and weird, from the spooky space funk of “Gorgeous” to the King Crimson-biting “Power” to the paranoid staccato strings of “Monster.” Nearly six minutes into “Runaway,” long after the song has already sealed itself in your brain, the sound cuts out and you think it’s over. Then there’s a plinking piano, the feedback of an electric guitar plugging in, some “Strawberry Fields”-style cellos and Yeezy himself singing a poignant Robert Fripp-style solo through his vocoder. There’s no way it should work, but it keeps rolling for three more minutes without breaking the spell.
Coming off a string of much-publicized emotional meltdowns, Yeezy is taking a deeper look inside the dark corners of his twisted psyche. He has sex and romance on his mind, but he comes clean about his male angst like never before. In confessions like “Runaway” and “Blame Game,” he honestly struggles to figure out why he has to be such a douchebag. Yet the songs are also his funniest ever, with Kanye showing off lethal wit on the mic: In “Dark Fantasy,” he rhymes “mercy, mercy me, that Murcielago” with “diablo,” “bravado” and “My chick in that new Phoebe Philo/So much head, I woke up in Sleepy Hollow.”
There’s a famous story about Queen making “Bohemian Rhapsody”: Whenever the band thought the song was finished, Freddie Mercury would say, “I’ve added a few more ‘Galileos’ here, dear.” But nobody can out-Galileo Kanye. With Fantasy, he makes everybody else on the radio sound laughably meek, but he’s also throwing down a challenge to the audience. Kanye West thinks you’re a moron if you settle for artists who don’t push as hard as he does. And that means pretty much everybody.