Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A Late Look At Late Registration

It's taken me a little while to get my review of Kanye West's new album Late Registration together. This review got a little lost among work, Mixmania, The New TV Show Review Challenge and other things. Also, it's an example of me wanting to take my time on a review. I didn't want to rush it and screw it up in the process. Then, I wondered if I should address Kanye's comments about George W. Bush in my review and so on...

Now that we have that covered...on with the review!

Kanye West's new album Late Registration was among the most hyped albums of the year, mainly by the artist himself. A lot of stuff intrigued me about the album, whether it was the stellar first single "Diamonds From Sierra Leone," or hearing that producer Jon Brion would be working on the album. After all the build up, I must say that Late Registration is a very good album. It will probably end up being one of the best albums released in 2005. It's a solid sophomore effort from an artist who was under a lot of pressure to follow up his much-lauded debut, The College Dropout. It's not as good as that debut album...but it's very close.

The first thing I noticed upon listening to the album is Kanye's subtle musical evolution. The sound of this album is a bit different than his last album. Mind you, all his signature cues are still there. Old soul/R&B samples still figure heavily into his sound. Vocals outside of his own also are still a very important part of his sound as well. This time, though, less of those outside vocals are from samples. However, even as signature elements of his sound haven't changed, you can hear how working with Jon Brion has influenced his music. There is an almost "kid in a candy store" feeling through a lot of the songs. The song "Heard 'Em Say" is one example of this. It's a nice song that seems destined to be a single, especially with Maroon 5's Adam Levine putting in a performance that may see him crossover to urban audiences the way Gwen Stefani recently did. Yet, the song doesn't end in the way you expect a normal hip-hop song to end. Instead of just stopping or simply fading out, the song flirts briefly with electronic music and ends like an electronic song. Other songs explore different sounds. "Drive Slow," which features Paul Wall, gets screwed in true Houston fashion at the end. "Gone" takes an Otis Redding sample and turns it into something else entirely. Kanye's tribute to his mother, "Hey Mama," is folksy and sounds very bright.

Another thing about this album is the way this album has an overall darker tone than the previous album. "Gold Digger" is all about the type of women (and men) one hopes not to be involved with. "Addiction" has Kanye succumbing to everything he shouldn't. Neither version of "Diamonds From Sierra Leone" covers a particularly happy topic. The remix has Kanye talking about Sierra Leone and conflict diamonds while the original (on the album as a bonus track) deals with the uncertainties of Roc-A-Fella Records following the Jay-Z/Damon Dash split. Even "On My Way Home," a song with Common by himself, has a dark underbelly. There's something about two rappers from Chicago that no longer live there collaborating on a song that features the vocal sample "It might not be such a bad idea if I never...never went home again" that doesn't necessarily sound upbeat.

Overall, this album is constructed better than The College Dropout. It benefits from shorter, less frequent skits and more ambitious production. Kanye sounds more assured (if that's possible) this time around and a little less afraid to be himself. It's hard to pinpoint why this album isn't as good as his first. Is it because after collaborations with various artists and his superb work on Common's Be, we as listeners are getting a little immune to Kanye's charms? Maybe it's because he's lost the element of surprise that his debut had or because expectations of this album were in some ways impossibly high. I think it's because that no song really stands out in the way a "Jesus Walks" or "Through The Wire" did. None of the songs comes close to the power of those songs, although "Roses" comes close. Despite the nitpicks and close calls, Late Registration is eminently listenable and will get probably get its due come Grammy time.

No comments:

Post a Comment