Typical. Kanye West finally, definitively declares himself a deity and all people want to talk about is French pastry. It’s a testament to the man that the mirth derived from his delivery of “Hurry up with my damn croissants!” midway through the defiant ‘I Am a God’ – emphasis placed squarely on ‘Am’ for the heathens – is less mockery and more appreciation of the sheer ridiculousness he can conjure up. Make no mistake; this God is worshipped. What will the disciples make of his latest proclamation, though? At 10 tracks and 40 minutes of largely industrial and experimental assault, Yeezus is quite the ways away from your usual Kanye joint. It’s also, in large swathes, the most arresting work of his storied career.
The Daft Punk-produced ‘On Sight’ (one of three tracks to place the robots behind the desk, and you’ll wish they brought this level of invention and restraint to Random Access Memories) pulsates from the off, its punk take on EDM the perfect foil for an angry Kanye, but it’s ‘Black Skinhead’ that really prompts goosebumps as West, like Marilyn Manson and Battles before him, mines glam rock rhythm to devastating effect. He’s breathless and paranoid, the drums boxing him in, forcing him to fight. And boy, can he swing, the God content to rewrite myth – “I keep it 300, like the Romans/300 bitches, where the Trojans?” – stand tall – “I’m aware I’m a wolf, soon as the moon hit/I’m aware I’m a king, back out the tomb bitch” – and scream his champion status so all can hear – “Baby we livin’ in the moment, I been a menace for the longest/But I ain’t finished, I’m devoted, and you know it, and you know it!”. There’s no real chorus here, rather pitch-perfect use of hooks and repetition as Kanye sets down markers, plain not giving a fuck. Listen to him play with the word ‘God’ at the conclusion, turning it into a weapon. It’s mind-blowing.
‘I Am a God’ is more sarcastic, a strutting continuation of the gospel according to Yeezus. ‘New Slaves’ takes direct aim, its targets many, its broadsides brutal, the refrain of “You see it’s leaders and it’s followers/But I’d rather be a dick than a swallower” knowingly provocative, but the Frank Ocean-assisted dreamlike outro is a transcendent moment of clarity. Alas, the God reveals human flaws and Yeezus struggles to retain such glorious momentum. There’s a distinct lull in the second half thanks to numbers like the straightforward ‘Guilt Trip’ and the listless ‘Send It Up’ but while they hurt the overall experience, they’re far from the worst offender. ‘I’m In It’ murders goodwill and an energetic Justin Vernon falsetto with lyrics that are juvenile at best and offensive at worst. “Eatin’ Asian pussy, all I need was sweet and sour sauce” is the kind of eye-rolling dreck you’d expect from a terrible sketch, only topped by Kanye’s clumsy lift of Martin Luther King Jr’s “Free at last!” rallying cry in celebration of the emancipation of breasts.
He’s better than this, so why the bullshit posturing? He might claim to be “forever the 35-year-old 5-year-old” but that feels too simple a defence when faced with the peaks he’s capable of climbing. ‘Blood On The Leaves’, itself driven by a sample of Nina Simone’s version of ‘Strange Fruit’ is the antithesis of ‘I’m In It’ in that it takes very dark, very real material and applies respect even when constructing a questionable narrative around it. ‘Strange Fruit’, with its disturbing images of bigotry and hatred, still has the power to shock and move, while Simone’s cover stands up as one of the all-time greats. With that in mind, it takes brass balls to swap lynching out of the equation in favour of a what-could-have-been tale of abortion, jealousy and opulence. And yet, somehow, despite an arrangement that packs in a little too much, ‘Blood on the Leaves’ connects.
Album closer ‘Bound 2’ is similarly stacked, bolstered by samples of Brenda Lee’s ‘Sweet Nothins’ and the Ponderosa Twins Plus One’s ‘Bound’, Kanye’s version of a white picket fence love song a dark cartoon that might give his other half cause for concern. Whether a glimpse of an idyllic lifestyle or a critique on modern relationships, the sense that Kanye will never be satisfied with his lot tears through the conclusion of a record that only falters when it occasionally compromises. Just so – a supreme being’s work is never done.