This album is a major left turn for Kanye.
Previous albums dripped with infectious soul-based hooks and samples, but Yeezus is much darker; instead taking its cues from the industrial rock of artists such as Nine Inch Nails. Kanye is better for this change in direction – although undoubtedly it’s a less commercial sound, the tone is more serious, and one that reflects his increasingly tortured psyche which proclaims ‘I Am A God’ but laments the doors that are closed to him in ‘Black Skinhead’. ‘Black Skinhead’ is the strongest song on the album, burning with a ferocious energy both musically and lyrically, a vicious attack on conservative reactions to him and a pledge to keep on pushing boundaries; all backed by a rampaging glam-rock drum beat and high-pitched vocal samples.
Most of the album maintains the darkness and lyrical power, making this a uniformly strong work which defies all expectations. ‘Blood on the Leaves’ is the one song on the album to match ‘Black Skinhead’, criticising the selfishness of abortion whilst also regretting the life of excess that he’s been enjoying. It is this dichotomy of what he can enjoy, and what makes him feel guilty – what he can access and what he cannot – that fuels the creative energy of this album. ‘Blood on The Leaves’ unsettles the listener because it shows how far we have come since the morality of “the pastor”, bound to unearthly samples of Nina Simone’s cover of ‘Strange Fruit’.
All of this makes the album’s last track and second single, ‘Bound 2’, all the more interesting. Theoretically a love song, it effectively melds unnerving beauty and love with graphic and disturbing lyrical imagery, all over a musical base that is reminiscent more of his earlier soul-based songs than his current style. In a sense, ‘Bound 2’ is a farewell and a tribute to his old style of songs and his old style of living, revelling in his newfound love – bearing this in mind, it is perhaps strangely fitting that the sample of the line “Uh-huh, honey” comes from a song by country artist Brenda Lee called ‘Sweet Nothin’s’, reflecting Kanye’s troubled romanticism.
“Bound 2” and “Black Skinhead” were the album’s two singles, and the album expands on the main themes of these two excellent tracks – Kanye’s newfound love, but also his increasingly tortured anger at what he can enjoy, and what he cannot.
In becoming increasingly introspective and changing soul for industrial rock, Kanye West has created a powerful, visceral and even sometimes beautiful album – an artistic triumph.
This article was written by Richard Birch.