Sunday, July 13, 2014

Book Review: 33 and 1/3 - "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"

I’m living in the future so the present is my past

my presence is a present kiss my ass

Our culture is already bored with meta-commentary about the potential effects of the digital revolution. It’s here, it’s everywhere, it’s the water flowing over the gills of the millennial and nourishing an isolated global community of social mavens, prepared to Google-as-a-verb the meaning of the word “maven” at a moment’s notice from a smartphone, tablet, netbook, and eyeglasses. It is no surprise, then, that possibly the most influential musician of the 21st century personifies and embraces the identity-crafting realm of the real-time and connected. It's important that any book about this musician understands the world we live in.

Kirk Walker Graves, author of the 33 1/3 entry for Kanye West’s album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, assumed the burden of dissecting the eponymous album for this very reason. Why focus an intellectual analysis on an album only four years old, nearly devoid of historical context? The author sends the message that MBDTF is the first album that wraps its tendrils directly into the psyche of a society that treats socializing as preparation for personal celebrity, desiring all things immediately not just due to impatience, but because soon now will be irrelevant. Much like the album and our pop culture, the importance of Graves’ analysis cannot be understated, or delayed.

Graves shows a level of enthusiasm for his work comparable to a toddler with a leaf blower in a realm of endless cotton candy. The book begins by giving one of the best explanations of Kanye, the artist and the human, that I have yet read. It helps the reader place him within the digital culture now pervading the world that I previously mentioned. At times, Graves’ ardor lends the book a zest for cultural context that informs the reader of even the most implacable song-sample or lyrical choice. There is a clear appreciation for sociological an anthropological meaning here as well; the many aspects of Kanye and the individual works within MBDTF are frequently described in terms of America’s love-hate response to His ego and ambitions. If you’ve ever felt there’s a fiendishly clever quality to the production of pop-friendly or nearly-pop-friendly songs like “All of the Lights” or “Runaway”, Graves is more than happy to validate you. In most cases, I found myself a convert.

That is not to say that this issue of the 33 1/3 series is without its faults. It feels that on occasion, Graves digs too deep to strike oil on analyses; it’s important that you agree with Graves on the conclusion that Kanye is intractably intertwined with the music he produces, or else all the talk of Kanye’s narcissism and aplomb in the text can become frustratingly psychoanalytical. However, to Graves’ credit, he generally avoids jargon and thesaurus-bombs in favor of flowery and just-short-of-excessive description, leaving it accessible to most learners interested in all the hoopla about Mr. West.

“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (the book) is a superb look at how our society is feeding the Kanye machine, producing great works of maximalist conglomeration (as well as Yeezus, which even the author admits lacked the initial vitality of MBDTF). When Graves then opens up the machine to give the readers a look at the parts, he proves his credentials. In homage to his imagery-thick writing style, I offer my personal interpretation of his thesis, for you to decide whether or not to read his book:

Kanye is a pop-culture golem accumulating the discarded love and scorn of the public eye, screaming from the mountaintop of public consciousness, Wi-Fi enabled, spotlights overhead, clutching a fistful of forgotten hooks and blistering verse, daring the cameras to look away. He is a one-man 24-hour news cycle channeling the ferocity of a boundless ego, repressed by men in suits in corner offices and sitting at talk-show desks. He’s producer, pariah, artist, child, deity, caricature and soon-to-be-king of pop all in one, and MBDTF is the promise.