First, the obvious problem: Yeezus is overmanufactured. Almost all of the songs on the album are propelled by several layers of synthesizer. The blistering opener “On Sight” comes across as an amateur European DJ playing around on Garage Band. Even Kanye West’s talent with samples is smothered by repetitive electronic riffs and a criminal use of autotune. You can almost hear that Kanye and his army of producers (Rick Rubin, RZA and Daft Punk to namedrop a few) had something very sincere in the beginning, but could not stop dressing it up until every single one of the songs was a monstrous caricature of its former self.
And then there is the safe lyricism. Make no mistake, the lyrics on Yeezus are not bad and they carry the theme of the album adequately enough. However, by Kanye West standards the words are a little easy, calling back memories from his other divisive album, 808s and Heartbreaks. His metaphors are thin and one-dimensional and you do not get the pithy commentary he delivered so well with his previous hits like “Jesus Walks” and “Golddigger”. To wit, on “I Am a God” he claims: “I am a god / so hurry up with my damn massage / hurry up with my damn ménage / get the Porsche out the damn garage.” There are not many ways to read into that, which calls into question Kanye’s commitment to his self-deification message.
That is where the bad news ends, for now. At the end of the day this is still Kanye West and fans will manage to find something to take home from this album. His genius is still recognisable on racially-charged tracks like “Black Skinhead”, “New Slaves” and “Blood On The Leaves”. The collaborations are kept to a minimum this time around, but when they happen they do not feel forced at all. If there is one song that feels out of place on the album (and in a good way) it is “Hold My Liquor” featuring fellow rapper Chief Keef and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame. It harks back to Kanye’s previous solo effort, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and provides a welcome recess from the rest of the high-octane songs. And that is where the good news ends.
Kanye West is famous for his shock shenanigans. He will say and do whatever he wants to whoever will gasp the loudest. In fact, one wonders if his career would have made it this far if it were not for his mythical bravado and boundless talent for offence. It makes sense, then, to transform all his shock tactics into ten caustic bites that people can access whenever they need to, right? Except they are not just caustic – most of the songs are schizophrenic, noisy and pornographic slices of hell. Kanye has unleashed ten ferocious demons into the musical ether and we have all seen enough exorcism movies to know how demonic possession ends.
On the closing track “Bound 2” he admits: “I’m tired. You’re tired. Jesus wept.”
Enough said, Mr West.