Do you remember when Kanye told us that “Jesus Walks” with “the hustlers, murderers, drug dealers, even the strippers?” He isn’t St. Augustine, but he had the basic theology, right? Isn’t it something you believe? Or are you one to push redemption away from the ranters, Swift interrupters, and anybody who has the gall to Tweet about ritzy merchandise?
It’s okay if you are. It all adds to Kanye’s hell-bent energy. In his “Dark Twisted Fantasy,” he’ll be honest with you: he carries a little bit of Satan with him, too. He describes himself with an array of diabolic, villainous images, his abusiveness (“All of the Lights” or “Blame Game”) and egotism (“Power”) analogized pretty explicitly. All of this is to say that he’s at the peak of his already-usual vulnerability here, fleshing out the flaws that everyone’s been quick to note in him. He gets it: you think he’s a devil.
Where does that leave him? “How do you…refresh the page and restart the memory? Respark the soul and rebuild the energy?” Appointed by haters that want him to separate his craft and his douche baggage, he finds that he can’t. So rather than wash out or trim up his “blackness” like the similarly lambasted Michael Jackson (which he often refers to), Kanye manically utilizes the identity, even fleshing it out some, to make something heroically human. Whether in terms of morale or volition, he becomes the fully realized postmodern identity, the epitomic “twenty-first century schizoid.”
“We love Jesus, but you done learned a lot from Satan,” he says on “Devil In a New Dress.” It’s another theological claim that seems right on cue.
He’s an anti-hero godsend not because what he does is always righteous (far from it), but because it is so openly authentic to the contradictory thing that he is. He mixes material excesses with their mixed bag of existential results. His hedonistic life—filled with exotic fishes, a Murcielago and fleshed-out sexual fetishes—is at times enticing (“Hell of a Life”); lovely (“Devil In a New Dress”); ridiculous (“So Appalled”); alienating (“Runaway”) and cold (“Blame Game”). “Screams from the haters” are his superhero theme music (“Power”).
“Every bag, every blouse, every bracelet comes with a price tag,” he says in the anthemic “Runaway” before giving “a toast to the douche bags.” Its “ladies and gentlemen” sample, hilariously perverted ethos and sing-along nature makes it seem like it’s being set up as a self-celebration that can shared by everybody. After all, America’s full of jerk-offs, right?
But he knows that he’s alone, the only one willing to see the self with the disdained respect it deserves. The track is bookended with contrasted loneliness—starting with a ultra-minimalistic, solitary-feeling piano stroke and ending with him crooning into a vocoder like a dying machine. The same kind of contrast is used in the supersized “All of the Lights,” which seems like it would have plenty of company with its over-the-top 11-person guest list (which includes everybody from Rihanna to Elton John) and majestic horns for backbone. But what is the song about? How his failures move him away from any kind of real love.
All of the glamour and devastation of the American dream are given auditory representation on “Beautiful Twisted Fantasy.” Kanye has always been the king of sampling, but he’s outdone himself with some truly special choices. For instance, “Lost in the World” features the monkish mythos of Bon Iver’s “Woods” and a 1970 spoken-word clip from Gil-Scott Heron.
Kanye also returns to some of the vocal manipulation that he took up in “808s and Heartbreak.” This time, though, it’s used to get some of these themes that Kanye, despite all of his bravado and deserved bravo, has had his voice filtered from the public. And actually he lets his guests do much of the talking. Jay-Z, RZA, Raekwon—they’re all great in themselves, and even better for Kanye’s writing and producing. I’ll give Nicki Minaj a special nod for giving the most wicked, rad performance I have ever heard on “Monster.”
So, to say all of this more generally: this is one of the most musically expansive things you will ever hear. Its palate alone makes it the best album of the year.
Kanye knows that—perhaps all too well as far as you’re concerned. Yes, his egomania is in full force within his “Twisted Fantasy.” He describes himself as being on top of Mount Olympus.
But as far as I’m concerned, he earns every one of his claims. And even though his egotism makes him a villain, I find him all the more compelling for it. But maybe that’s just because I have a pretty clear sense of my own demons—the ones I hate and the ones I love.