Kanye West released a new album today. It’s called Yeezus, which should piss off the Christians and Beatles fans out there, what with the self aggrandizing sacrilege and the echo of John Lennon’s claim that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. But that’s what makes this fun.
I had listened to songs from the set over the past few weeks, particularly Kanye on Saturday Night Live, and the live presentations were hard to listen to. Very loud, very jittery, very plangent, in a bad way. Metal Machine Music, or, in other words, unlistenable.
But today I listened to the record and it is, like all of Kanye’s solo work, incredible. If he wants to be Jesus, I’m fine with that. Of course, I’m not the pope.
What is more interesting, in a Dylan-ish sense, is that when Jesus Walked Kanye was a Christian. When there were Blood Diamonds out there he was the son of a Black Panther.
But his recent music has fewer goals, and is much more brain dump. Kanye has never been overmodulated, but he used to push his ego out front self-consciously, like maybe he thought he was pushing himself too far but felt he had to do it. Call it self-conscious adventurism. But here the presentation is pure self. Still self-conscious, but bold and reckless in equal parts. If a noise, a lyric, a design, whatever, makes the cut, he seems to be saying, it’s gold for the listener and the world. I think this is a Gnostic move. Yeezy is filled with God, so what he utters comes has the perfection of God and he becomes Yeezus.
This isn’t a likeable pose, and was disastrous on the Watch the Throne album with Jay Z, with all its insufferable bragging, but here Kanye is as confessional as ever, and as bracingly, surprisingly train-wreckishly honest, too, which to me feels quite extraordinarily. And the music is rich and aggressive and ambitious and fresh enough that he’s risking his pop audience (as he always has), taking them into Nine Inch Nails clangor (someplace I’m sure many have never been before) as well as pushing, on some tracks, the seventh level of hip-hop hell. I hate to say it, but when it comes to risk and reward Kanye is the rockingest dude of all time (Definition: Does whatever he wants, earns boatloads of dollars. Second definition: Quotes Gary Glitter and makes it sound new.), despite the bizarre Kardashian thing he’s doing.
The other interesting thing about this video clip is that visually it consists of a single provocative underwear shot, for no apparent reason except eye candy. But when you watch it at YouTube an overlay encourages the viewer to click either the right side (fuzzy image) or the left side (pert panties). What one gets if they click through are the chance to listen to one of two less than inspiring pop-rap crap (I’d say) songs. It appears to be a marketing gimmick which monetizes the songs, which you are playing for free. But I wonder why the fearsome artist Kanye West would make a record this sonically challenging, and then sign on to a bunch of links to bad Hollister-experience music. Should I add a question mark?
UPDATE: So what seemed to be official Kanye YouTube uploads with weird self-defeating monetization turns out to have been a Kanye account imposter trading on traffic attracted to the new songs. All the YouTube videos right now seem equally illicit but without the eye candy. You can find it.