With the year at an end, we’re left to look back and figure out not only which artists and albums were the most entertaining, but which had to most to say – which album (if any) crystallized a cultural epoch, leaving behind an enduring artistic work that emphatically bespoke 2010. This year the decision was an easy one: it was Kanye West, and his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Starting off his career as an endearing underdog, West is in the fascinating position of having developed discretely throughout his career. From the egotistical optimism and political underpinnings of his ‘College’ trilogy, to the bizarre (and woefully under appreciated) synthetic pop of 808s and Heartbreak – the album that followed both the termination of his engagement and the death of his mother due to plastic-surgery complications – tracing West’s emotional maturation and breakdown through his discography proves surprisingly fruitful. Bookending this era, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy sees the bravado of early West drawn through the lens of guilt and anger established in 808s and Heartbreak. This album sees him perched upon his “Mount Olympus”, equally glorious and shattered in his debauchery and excess.
Gone is the upbeat, self-conscious wit of “All Falls Down”, in its place we’re given “All of the Lights”, “Runaway”, “Hell of a Life”: all clearly fictional, but now heavily pessimistic, claustrophobic and deeply symbolic. While the spotlight stays trained on West, he generalizes his experiences: unafraid to incorporate political commentary into what initially appear to be hedonistic exercises. When he announces his inadequacies he isn’t just talking about himself anymore: the imagery is grandiose, the metaphors expanded to a greater consideration of American culture – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a contradictory tale of excess and perversion, of the guilt and isolation that accompany modern success.
In giving the final word to Gil Scott-Heron, Kanye West’s intentions are clear: to produce a work of modern significance, to encapsulate American excess in all its ornate hypocrisy and decay. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy manages to do all this and still be listenable, and still somehow account for his yearly club-hit quota. For that small miracle he’s earned album of the year.
- Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma
- Janelle Monae – The Archandroid
- Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
- Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit
Originally published in The Peak, February 2011. I don’t retract a word of it. These albums are Awesome.