Money Mike reviewed this the other day and he absolutely loved it. I have a little bit of a different take.

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying that Kanye West’s new album, 808s & Heartbreak, is the single most polarizing commercial release of the year. And that’s even with the new Guns and Roses release that’s hit the market as well. I’ve heard people call it the album of the year. I’ve heard people say that just because he’s depressed, he doesn’t have to depress everyone who bought the album as well. I think I’m right smack dab in the middle.

The album is based on his feelings and emotions focused on the tragedy of losing his mother in a plastic surgery screw up as well as ending of his engagement to Alexis Phifer. While you don’t hear any songs written directly to either woman, the entire sound is based on the heartbreak he’s gone through over the year.

The production is outstanding.

I consider Late Registration to be his best album. I think he hit it completely out of the park and over the Green Monster with that one. From a production standpoint, this album is close. Starting with the hollow drums which are the focus of the music, he’s able to lay the foundation of his heartbreak template sonically better than he could ever do with his lyrics. If this album were solely based on instrumentals, you’d understand exactly what the album was about.

(The term 808 is a shout out to the drum machine TR-808 which Kanye used for every song on the album. He thought the drums would give the songs a more tribal feel.)

Because the production is so intense, the way you listen to the album is more than likely going to guide your opinion on what you think about the music. If you listen to the album on your computer or in the car, you won’t experience the whole sound and feel of the album. Listen to it on a good set of headphones, or on a proper stereo system. I’ve listened to it in my car, on my computer, on my iPod, and on my iKicker and the more intimate the listening, the more of a full sound I was able to experience. It is truly a headphone masterpiece. Word to Cody ChestnuTT.

It’s an amazing 7 song album, but it soon falls flat.

The album opens with Say You Will which sets the album blazing. Welcome To Heartbreak keeps the momentum going until Heartless, which is such a great song that it might be the most timeless thing he’s ever done. It’s also the only song in which he’s truly rapping.

Young Jeezy tries very hard to ruin Amazing, but it’s still above par, even though Jeezy gargles with razor blades on the track. Everyone probably knows Love Lockdown which is the first single and caused people to think that Kanye had lost his mind when it was released. The album slows down a bit with Paranoid, which Kanye doesn’t even really seem to take seriously and then Robocop, which is given this huge orchestral backing, but features the silliest analogy to a snooping girlfriend you’ll ever find. She’s not a snooping cop, but a Robocop.

Cause I don’t want no ROBOCOP
You movin’ like a ROBOCOP
When did you become a ROBOCOP
No, I don’t need a ROBOCOP

It could’ve been something brilliant, but he was trying way too hard to be cute.

The album starts amazingly, falls flat, and loses its edge. I won’t even downgrade it for the insanely bad live cut of Pinocchio Story. But I will downgrade it for See You In My Nightmares with Lil’ Wayne. Wayne is jaw-droppingly bad as Kanye’s co-star on the track.

Auto-tune breaks my heart and the lyrics don’t help

I think everyone and their mother is over auto-tune, with the exception of hip hop stars who can’t sing a lick and creatively are tapped and need a new gimmick. I won’t argue with anyone who doesn’t think the auto-tune generation isn’t a gimmick, but to me, it’s what you do when you need to give a record a new sound. And that’s fine for a record or two. But a whole damn album?

Kanye peer Sean Combs, aka Diddy says it’s about emotion.

When we sing, we singing from the heart. It ain’t about the key — you’re getting exactly the rawness of how it feels. That’s why people are digging it. Thank God for Auto-Tune and thank God for T-Pain.

I can understand that, but I think the translation of that “rawness” is lost because of the lack of actual vocal skill. Kanye would never sign a singer who sang as badly as he does. Diddy wouldn’t have created an entire group of Day26ers or Danity Kaners who couldn’t sing without auto-tune. Ok, he still signed Aubrey, but he recently cut her. You get my drift.

Kanye is lost, alone, and he doesn’t know what to do, or who to blame. It’s really the male version of what Fiona Apple has been doing for years. But there’s a difference. Not only can Apple communicate her feelings through a strong singing voice, her lyrics also paint the picture in a way that’s enhanced by the matching production. Here, that’s not the case. The production so far outshines anything that comes out of Kanye’s mouth, it’s not balanced. Street Lights is a Ben Folds song, but without the strong songwriting and keen wit. Thus, it’s simply boring.

To buy or not to buy, that is the question.
I was scared out of my wits to buy this album. When I think of what attracts me to a Kanye West album, it’s the impeccable production, but also a certain bravado that he brings to the table. You can’t shake the man’s confidence. So it worried me to listen to an album where he’s stripped himself of what makes him great at what he does.

Listen with an open mind. He’s not having a ton of fun and it’s not really a fun listen. It’s almost a chore at first because it knocks you off your chair a bit. You’re not used to listening to a “naked” Kanye West. But as you listen more closely (and with headphones on), you understand what he was trying to do. He’s a brilliant producer and had an idea that was based off of feeling and emotion. You’ll want to shake him and tell him to get a grip, but from an artist progression stand-point, you tip your hat to him. He’s earned the right to say what he feels.

Just cool it with the auto-tune and go back to rappin’ next time ok?

Photo of Kanye West by LittleO2 shared via creative commons