My Teenage Album: Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
I bought this album because a friend had told me it would be good, and at the time I was desperately trying to broaden my musical horizons having grown bored with the music of the sixties and seventies.
I find one of the biggest tragedies of our times is the way people get bogged down in what they like, with music this is especially true. Kanye West’s fifth solo album is, fact, one of the most critically acclaimed albums of recent years yet trying to get people to listen to it is like asking them pull their teeth out. In my more angry moments I put it down to racism, more truthfully I think it’s just pure ignorance and fear that someone might come to love a figure so divisive as Kanye.
This was the album that opened my eyes to West’s music, his previous solo-outing 808s Heartbreak had been groundbreaking but for audiences too alienating, too depressing. MBDTF put Kanye back on track as a world conquering artist and effectively solidified his place as one of the twenty-first centuries great artists.
It is an album that is dizzyingly great, every track produced with a precision that Kanye had shown with The College Dropout and Late Registration, yet gone are the skits, and gone are the epic track listings. There are only 13 tracks on MBDTF and each one is given equal care and attention as if each one were West’s last. It is an aspect of Kanye as an artist that I have always admired, he never makes anything by halves, for some it might be a bit much, but they don’t deserve his music. West’s lyrics on the album are among the best he’s ever written, and for me a song like “Blame Game” or “Runaway” are two of his greatest works. Listening to the album there is an epicness in the production which matches the strange and sometimes horrific character West creates, weaving the personal and fictional in a way that very few artists can.
I could go on about the merits of this album, but many reviews have already been written. What makes this the seminal album of my teenage years? I listened to the album everyday for 6 months solid, I walked the dog just so I could listen to it uninterrupted and would take long detours to listen until its completion. It took me to places where the music I had been listening to never did, it scared me, made me feel uncomfortable, and intrigued me. I didn’t and still don’t understand all his references and I don’t care if I ever do, what made me fall in love was the feeling and moods West creates. From the Milton-esque “Monster” to the intensely self-loathing “Runaway”, the grittiness of “All of the Lights” to the otherworldliness of “Lost in the World”, MBDTF takes its listener on a journey into the mind of musical genius and on your way you might start to find yourself. He can simultaneously talk about things we might never experience, the cars and the drugs, and things we all experience, feeling of loss, jealousy and greed.
Music described as cinematic often isn’t, yet MBDTF totally is. One can listen to it in various ways, as a whole with a continuous, harrowing plot; or in two movements, with the brash and in your face West being replaced by the more reflective and depressed artist who had had a succession of bad relationships and had lost his mother a few years previously. I had never heard anything like it before, and still haven’t despite my searching.
It is simply stunning, a musical cross between The Great Gatsby and American Psycho, painting excess in a harsh light with characters that are often deplorable. It made me appreciate the fact that we should never tie ourselves to a particular post, nor dismiss without having first listened to and engaged with. There are albums which feature great music, but few which demand every bit of your attention, MBDTF started my love affair with West, but also marks the point where I truly came to appreciate the power and importance of music. Yeezy did indeed teach me.