Tuesday, January 5, 2010

First Listen: Kanye West, VH1 Storytellers

By accident of the calendar, Kanye West's live record is the first album I've bought in 2010. I suppose it could have been worse.

This CD and DVD jointly document West's appearance on Storytellers in early 2009, shortly after the release of his fourth album, 808s and Heartbreak. The focus is squarely on that record, so there's much more auto-tuned singing than rapping. He seems to have a good band with him, although none of them are credited in the liner notes. Musically, it's nice stuff, despite West's rough live singing - auto-tune can only do so much.

But this is Storytellers, and so we also get a fair amount of West's musings on his own life and fame. And my god, he's an ass. It takes a very particular kind of self-delusion to allow this to be released publicly. His speeches teeter between the obvious and the self-aggrandizing - he talks about the time he realized that homosexuality isn't contagious, for instance, and at one point he actually says his greatest pain in life is not being able to watch himself perform. "I welcome you to experience a pleasure I will never have," he tells his audience. Really.

West's Storytellers appearance is concrete proof that he's more of a studio artist than a live one. He should stick to what he does best, and that does not include public speaking. Musically, this is fine, but not a patch on any of West's studio albums. But whenever he opens his mouth, it just gets weighted down.

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