This has been quite the birth week for proud, paranoid papa Kanye West. He and girlfriend Kim Kardashian — the only person on the planet more desperate for attention than he is — welcomed a daughter.
And perhaps even more important to the 36-year-old Chicago rapper and provocateur, 'Ye releases into the world his sixth LP today, the demurely titled Yeezus, the sound of a restless egomaniac unleashing every last ounce of aggression before a life of diaper changing. If his next record is a hip-hop lullaby, at least he wilded out one last time.
And wow, do things get freaky-deaky on this 10-tracker, with Kanye behaving badly at bionic levels. If you complain about the staid world of predictable pop, you can't fault this sucker. And you can't say the guy's not blatantly, shockingly honest.
Yeezus is a thrashing, endlessly fascinating admission of horrible behavior, short on pure fun singles (not a Gold Digger or Stronger or All of the Lights to be found) but long on Godzillan beats and noise and machismo.
Is Kanye spiralling into madness? Maybe. But just try and look away. Calling this a hip-hop album — or rock or pop or metal — doesn't cut it. He's experimenting with sounds we've never heard before. Which doesn't make something good, of course. But a lot of this stuff works, with Kanye mostly forgoing Auto-Tune trickery (see 2008 breakup album 808s & Heartbreak) for a primal howl that stirs our deep id-centric impulses.
The ferociously stomping Black Skinhead makes Gary Glitter's Rock and Roll Part 2 sound like Dust in the Wind. With its incessant industrial beat, it was deemed larger-than-life enough to soundtrack the new trailer for Martin Scorsese's greed-rules romp The Wolf of Wall Street. Per usual, West is feeling persecuted for his mightiness: "Enter the kingdom / But watch who you bring home / They see a black man with a white woman at the top floor / They gonna come to kill King Kong." Like I said: paranoid. But try to stop listening.
One of the things that's so compelling about West is that for all the facets of his Yeezus/Jesus complex, he's also aware of his ridiculousness, winking at his eccentricities and our outrage at his antics. One of the clearest signs that he doesn't really think he's Christ is the Nine Inch Nails-ish blaster I Am a God: "I am a God / Hurry up with my damn massage." Even he knows he's a lot to handle. "Hurry up with my damn croissants!" he straight-faces later. No need to genuflect.
West brings in top producers, including French electronic-dance duo Daft Punk for trancey synth clashes, Rick Rubin for the booming sound systems. There are celeb cameos too, including bisexual soul singer Frank Ocean, who croons on New Slaves, which condemns materialism on each side of the buy-sell equation. (There's also a homophobic verse tucked in there, which might have given the heart-sleeved Ocean pause.)
Some songs are half-baked at best: Hold My Liquor doesn't take off until its second-half, a swirling prog-rock wonderland. Bon Iver is on that track and on the next, I'm in It, a stuttering Frankenstein monster about convenience-store condoms and heinous pillow talk. Listen to it once, and then be done with it — advice I'd give to Ms. Kardashian as well. (Oh boy, she must have a lot of questions about this one.)
Kanye's been taking heat lately for all manner of Kanye-ness: alleged affairs, comparing himself to Steve Jobs and Walt Disney (not to mention the Son of God). His latest brouhaha is the song Blood on the Leaves, a sexually charged ballad that samples Nina Simone's version of Strange Fruit, a politically charged masterpiece about lynching and injustice. A time for West to redeem himself? Yeah, right. The only person he cares about is himself and a female conquest. By using Strange Fruit for his own misogynistic means, he's begging you to attack him, as if that's his only way to live. So go on, take shots. King Kong can take the heat.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.