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Kanye West Gets 'Twisted,' But Misses The Beauty

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Kanye West Gets 'Twisted,' But Misses The Beauty

Kanye West Gets 'Twisted,' But Misses The Beauty

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Today, one of the most anticipated - and most leaked - albums of the year hit stores: "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," by Kanye West. The rapper began releasing songs on his own website this summer. And last month, he premiered a 35-minute music video. Now, the complete album arrives, and Oliver Wang has our review.

OLIVER WANG: A friend recently claimed that Kanye West is the only famous rapper that still matters. I imagine fans of Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg or Lil Wayne might take issue with that opinion. But it's doubtful that any of those MCs ever merited a mention in a presidential memoir. As Kanye himself might ask, should any rapper have all that power?

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KANYE WEST (Musician): (Singing) I'm living in the 21st century, doing something mean to it, do it better than anybody you ever seen do it. Screams from the ladies, got a nice ring to it. I guess every super hero need his theme music. No one man should have all that power. The clock's ticking, I just count the hours. Stop trippin', I'm trippin' off the power...

WANG: Most rappers have huge egos, and few are as inflated as Kanye's. But unlike other MCs, who talk big but sound tinny, Kanye's lyrical arrogance is easily matched in grandiosity by his musical ambitions.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified People: (Singing) Can we get much higher? So high...

WANG: On his last album, "808s and Heartbreaks," Kanye draped everything in a chilly, AutoTuned minimalism. But with "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," he turns it all around with a hefty, dense sound that goes big, really big.

(Soundbite of music)

WANG: All of that volume is there to commandeer space. This is music to saturate concert halls and shake bleacher seats. But it's not just loud. This is also Kanye's most baroque album, with intricate layers of choral harmonies and long, instrumental noodling.

(Soundbite of music)

WANG: In small doses, these captivating arrangements are a reminder of why no one straddles hip-hop and pop music with quite the same daring as Kanye.

(Soundbite of music)

WANG: However, with the average song nearly six minutes long, the album often crosses from avant-garde into merely indulgent, especially when some songs drag into seemingly endless codas.

(Soundbite of music)

WANG: With all that self-seriousness, the album could use more shots of Kanye's once-signature levity. One of the more playful tunes, about a text message breakup, becomes one of the most memorable thanks to Kanye's clever double entendres, and searingly intense production by Bink.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WEST: (Singing) Oh, put your hands to the constellations, the way you look should be your sin, you my sensation. I know I beat you to the congregation. We love Jesus, but you'd have learned a lot from Satan.

WANG: I've always enjoyed Kanye's ability to surprise and defy expectations, and part of me admires how over the top "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" feels. With songs about marrying porn stars and a Hydra-like posse cut called "Monster," the album's fantasies are heavy on the dark and twisted. But what is beautiful feels buried under ponderous ruminations over sex, money and fame.

Kanye's always complaining about how success has ruined him, and his public train wrecks might attest to that. But in his moments of clarity, his musical visions are amongst the most dazzling around. Maybe by the next album, we'll get to peek at some of those fantasies, too.

(Soundbite of music)

KELLY: Our reviewer, Oliver Wang, runs the audio blog SoulSides.com.

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