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Notes on Kanye West and…Fleetwood Mac

What Kanye West’s new set of songs remind me most of–and this might be highly idiosyncratic on my part–is Fleetwood Mac’s 1979 classic album, Tusk. Easily their best in my opinion. It blends together the manicness of Lindsey Buckingham’s jangling pace and spooling intricacies with the serene, ethereal harmonies of Christie and Stevie.

For Kanye, he has metamorphosized into a kind of musical gemini–part Lindsey (studio genius) and part Stevie (a dramatis persona, a “player” who lets the character take over. It takes over most when he attempts to show the greatest sincerity.) He uses a variety of studio tricks and female vocalists to fill in for Christie.

For Lindsey, coke and obsessive studio time and perfectionism led to the harmonic verneer on Tusk; for Kanye, he says straight up on “Hell of a Life” that drugs are not for him–sex and spirituality (in so many words) are his obsessions.

The looping slick harpsichords is just slightly less out of control, on both albums, than the paranoid lyrical content of “What Makes You Think You’re the One” by Fleetwood Mac, and “Monster” by Kanye.

The other important thing to remember is that Kanye is essentially a pop performer. The flow of words is there to augment the “sounds of the sounds.” And, of course, Fleetwood Mac was the crucial late 70s pop band.

It is uncanny how much Kanye has naturalized and assimilated the echoing drippiness and backbeat of Daft Punk–which, particularly with Discovery, certainly took its cues from the weird pop of the early 80s, of which Tusk was a definite precursor.

Is Kanye “real” in his emotions? Who knows. He gave Taylor Swift her creation myth (more on that later–but Taylor is as much, if not more so, of a postmodern construct as Lady Gaga), and the vitriol directed his way was entirely self-inflicted. And yet for a personality like his–or persona, rather–it only augmented the urgency in his artistic production, made it tighter and fiercer. I like 808 and Heartbreak, but that really seemed to be almost a proof of concept for about two-thirds of the sound of the new album.

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Sat, December 11 2010 » Music

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