Kanye West – Yeezus (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
A few months before leaving this planet forever, in the final public act of his life, Lou Reed wrote some nice words about Kanye West’s Yeezus: “He keeps unbalancing you. He’ll pile on all this sound and then suddenly pull it away, all the way to complete silence, and then there’s a scream or a beautiful melody, right there in your face. That’s what I call a sucker punch.” Reed knew more than most about sucker punches, and there’s something cosmically appropriate about that final salute: One mercurial troublemaker saluting another on his way out the door.
And Yeezus is a sucker punch, a grand act of making them unlike you as soon as they like you. Here, we have one of the world’s biggest and most important pop stars making an album full of digital screeches and groans, of sex-fiend animosity, of deconstructed club music, of frustrated noise. All of it feels like a conscious rejection of anything anyone ever liked about him. You liked his soul-sampling mini-symphonies? He’s going to open the album with a sound like a malevolent Decaptacon’s death-rattle. You liked his approachable everyman humor? He’s going to tell you about the time he put his fist in her like the civil rights sign. You liked the way he moved backpack-rap values into the pop-rap orbit? He’s going to use a “Strange Fruit” sample to grouse about the tyranny of child support.
But upon closer inspection, Yeezus becomes very much the work of the old Kanye — just, in this case, an old Kanye who’s become fascinated with his own ability to streamline emotional electronic blurt-wails like prime Reznor. Everything great about him is here: The curatorial ear (those adrenal TNGHT horn-blats), the expectation-challenging disjunctions (Chief Keef and Justin Vernon on the same song), the self-conscious wit (the croissants line). And at the end of it all, there’s the vintage beauty of “Bound 2,” shining through like sun bursting through clouds, as simply and purely beautiful as the celesta on “Sunday Morning.” That’s what I call a sucker punch. –Tom [LISTEN]