Harry Harland (Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy)
Kanye West has had a bit of a chequered history with me. It seems that whenever I think that he’s wonderful, he does something that stops me in my tracks. For all the great tunes he’s released (Jesus Walks, Gold Digger, Stronger, etc), he’s never managed to really find his place in my iPod. His albums seemed a bit inconsistent and self-congratulatory, while some of his public behaviour just made you think that he’s a colossal arsehole. It was therefore with trepidation that I finally gave 2010’s critically acclaimed MBDTF a listen, as many of the aforementioned disappointments had also met strong praise in the press, albeit not quite as strong as that which accompanied this release.
Mercifully, in this case, it appears the hype is justified. The album is an absolute tour-de-force and I don’t think it’s any stretch to say it’s the best and most varied hip-hop release I’ve heard since Roots Manuva’s Run Come Save Me, a decade or so ago.
As a listening experience, it works brilliantly. The album kicks off with some good old Kanye swagger, incorporating the single Power, featuring a backing track that you will instantly recognise, although I’m not sure where from. It then moves into some decent middle tracks, heavily featuring old friend and future collaborator (on 2011’s Watch the Throne) Jay-Z. The pick of these is the menacing Monster, whose greatness is thrust home by a surprisingly excellent verse from Nicki Minaj. So far though, so very Kanye West.
Then something strange happens. The bravado vacates and Mr West bares his soul. Runaway may well be one of the greatest pop songs of the last decade, a 9 minute long soul/rap crossover that evokes some of the more tender moments of Plan B’s last album (in fact, there is even a Plan B cover of the track on YouTube). Starting with single repeating piano note, it develops into beautiful piece of music, including a frank admission by it’s creator that he has, at times been a bit of an asshole.
The album oozes style, whether it’s embracing it’s balls-out confidence (additional stand-out Hell of a Life falls into this category too) or Kanye’s softer side. It deserved every bit of the critical acclaim it received, in addition to considerably more from a commercial point of view. The album was West’s first effort not to go top-10 in this country and it appears that this will go down in history as somewhat of a hidden gem. Make sure it’s one that you’ve discovered.
Ed Lines (Lana Del Rey – Born to Die)
The follow-up single to her mesmerising Video Games, Born to Die is proof that Lana del Rey is not going to be just a hot babe with one great hit. The voice (and pout) that made me and countless other men and women go weak at the knees is back with the same emotional intensity and sense of fragility. Born to Die, as the title suggests, is a memento mori, the realisation of her mortality which hangs over her despite the best things in life (a lot of sex, according to her video). In her words: “Sometimes love’s not enough”.