Kanye West, Finally Unraveled

Plumbing the gorgeous nightmares of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Like any empire, things do come crashing down, and like a Greek tragedy, it’s felled by a woman. Fantasy is masterfully engineered and sequenced, each song bleeding over like some long night out into the hazy morning after. (Tellingly, it features more overt references to drinking and drug use than any other West album.) By the time “Runaway” arrives, West seems to be swirling completely out of control. Self-laceration overtakes chest-beating, as he sings, “I'm so gifted at finding what I don't like the most.” He finds her on “Hell of a Life,” a blurry, dissonant ode to rough sex that grinds, burbles, and ticks away, dissipating into the crucial gossamer, “Blame Game.” Finally, he collapses under the weight of what everyone collapses under: love. “Fuck arguing and harvesting the feelings/Yo, I'd rather be by my fucking self/Till about 2 a.m. and I call back and I hang up and I start to blame myself . . . Somebody help,” West raps, torn asunder and bleary-eyed. Verse two, vocally manipulated to reflect a woozy internal war, is even darker and more panic-stricken. It is a terrifying and real picture of a blue valentine. John Legend, long West’s emotional sledgehammer, delivers a chorus that takes us back to an important word: “I love you, more.” “I hate you, more.” More, more, more. No one ever wins at love.

Of course, the fantasy is a lie. The good life is a mirage. People will reach to call this a perfect album—it can’t be that. Not because art can’t be perfect, but because the point of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is imperfection. A lack of answers. By the time we arrive at the album’s final suite, Kanye West is “Lost in the World.” Not found in his Murciélago. Or rolling with monsters. Or reveling in all that power. He’s alone and confused. “I'm down my whole life/I'm new to the city/Down for the night,” Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon sings. The album closes with a snatch of Gil Scott-Heron’s “Comment #1”: Scott-Heron’s beckoning call “Who will survive in America?” are the last words we hear. It’s a too-serious denouement for an album that is more about the self’s little nightmares than some aching societal rejection. By keeping us so close to the flesh, we lose sight of how famous Kanye West is, how bratty he can be, how far he can fall. But not how great he can be. He can’t get much higher.

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