Thursday, September 08, 2005

Retake: Late Registration

I usually don't do album reviews, but since I poopooed the Pitchfork/Rolling Stone orgasmia over Mr. West's Opus, I figure it's only right to do one since I've had a chance to listen to it a few times (and boy did I ever).

You know what? It grew on me. This is good stuff. Gone are the sped-up chipmunk vocals that were his signature on College Dropout and Jay's Blueprint and replaced with even more layers upon layers of sound and it creates a... I'm stealing someone's line here, but a cinematic soundscape. Jon Brion's influence is obvious.

The high point for me, and the track that is getting repeat upon repeat upon repeat play on the iPod is "Hey Mama". If you took 2Pac's "Dear Mama" and cheesed it up by about 400%, this is what you would get, though the production makes it work. The "la la la" background vocal hooks you in, then Jon Brion brings some of that Punch Drunk Love shit and heaps about 3 more layers of sound on top. Beautiful stuff. But my favorite element is the hand clap, which doesn't come often enough. Seriously, listen for it - quite possibly the best use of a hand clap as a secondary sound since "Jack and Diane".

I went back and listened to the demo version of "Hey Mama" that was sitting in my hard drive and totally forgot about. The vocals are the same but the background only consists of the "la la la" and a drum beat. It's a strong track but the extra layers really push it to a next level.

The album certainly isn't without its low points. "Gold Digger" is forgettable, almost as out of place as "Change Clothes" on The Black Album. "Bring Me Down" with Brandy was much better when it was "Wack Niggas" on Talib Kweli's "The Beautiful Mixtape". And there's nothing particularly wrong with "Touch the Sky" but the Curtis Mayfield sample is as unsubtle as it gets - weird, because I loved his Nina Simone "Sinnerman" sample that drove Talib's "Get By" but, I don't know, it's too easy?

But back to the positives, "Heard 'Em Say" is surprisingly listenable, even with Maroon 5's Adam Levine doing his blue-eyed soul thang, and "Roses", the other mama ode on Late is outstanding.

I like, not love this album. I still prefer College Dropout, which is tighter (not necessarily better, however) musically and thematically. But I can certainly see why the critics jumped on this one. It's the most ambitious hip hop album since... well, dare I say ever? It does succeed for the most part. The fillers are forgivable, though they are still fillers.

Oh, and I think Ian of Sexy Results! is spot on with his assessment that "Kanye is obviously trying to position himself amongst the likes of Stevie and Prince, but the problem is, those two have legacies that are based on songwriting, as opposed to mere cult of personality".

Also, Slate's Hua Hsu examines how a man who openly admits to his lack of street cred came to be the biggest name in the game.

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