Is there a pop culture figure that better exemplifies the love/hate relationship than Kanye West?
Like all blockbuster releases, the hip hop superstar’s Yeezus has divided opinion and while the critical fraternity is showering it with positive reviews, including our Tone Deaf reviewer’s 9/10 write-up, there’s as many detractors in the general public who says it’s noisy, angry art-rap exemplifies the worst characteristics of its egotistical creator.
So it comes as a little bit surprising that Lou Reed – no stranger to love/hate relationships with audiences himself (*cough* Loutallica) – loves Yeezus.
The Velvet Underground founder has written a lengthy review of Yeezy’s latest album for The Talkhouse, a website designed to “promote dialogue between musicians who may never have interacted otherwise,” by getting musicians from all walks of genres to review the latest album releases.
In his irreverent, to-the-point, and occasionally witty piece (a description that could be a microcosm for Reed’s best work), the 71 year old music veteran praises Yeezus, writing: “There are moments of supreme beauty and greatness on this record, and then some of it is the same old shit. But the guy really, really, really is talented. He’s really trying to raise the bar. No one’s near doing what he’s doing, it’s not even on the same planet.” “There are moments of supreme beauty and greatness on this record, and then some of it is the same old shit…” – Lou Reed
Describing Kanye West as “a child of social networking and hip-hop,” Reed clearly has a lot of respect for what West is trying to achieve with his album describing “each track is like making a movie,” with the the hip hop artist the maniacal director who “stays unmoved while this mountain of sound grows around him.”
In fact its the abrasive shifts in sound and tone that appeal most to the veteran muso. “Very often, he’ll have this very monotonous section going and then, suddenly —‘BAP! BAP! BAP! BAP!’— he disrupts the whole thing and we’re on to something new that’s absolutely incredible,” he writes. “That’s architecture, that’s structure — this guy is seriously smart.”
Less intelligent however – and what Reed sees as the album’s greatest weakness – are the ‘childish’ wordplay. “Many lyrics seem like the same old b.s. Maybe because he made up so much of it at the last minute,” remarks Reed (a fact recently revealed by super-producer Rick Rubin in an interview with The Daily Beast, saying he “ended up taking two hours. Five vocals. He wrote two lyrics on the spot.” But that’s another story).
“Usually the Kanye lyrics I like are funny, and he’s very funny here,” says Reed of Yeezus. “Although he thinks that getting head from nuns and eating Asian pussy with sweet and sour sauce is funny, and it might be, to a 14-year-old — but it has nothing to do with me.”
But Reed also appreciates that even the album’s most perverse moments (such as the “synth buzzsaw” that starts the album being “like farting”) are dares to his audience to “unlike” West; “‘I Am a God’ — I mean, with a song title like that, he’s just begging people to attack him,” he notes, affording the Reed the perfect opportunity to defend his own white noise opus Metal Machine Music, his 1975 album that regularly tops ‘worst album ever’ lists.
In conclusion, Reed says the album – and it’s creator’s – greatest strength is its contradictions, that are in a surreal way – similarities. “[Kanye] obviously can hear that all styles are the same, somewhere deep in their heart, there’s a connection,” concludes his review. “It’s all the same shit, it’s all music — that’s what makes him great. If you like sound, listen to what he’s giving you. Majestic and inspiring.”
Overall, Reed’s assessment of Yeezus offers a unique perspective on the record that reads less like the glowing praise of a sycophantic and the kind of writing that proves that album reviews can, and still do, matter. Here’s hoping the art-rock grump is available to review Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail…