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the shock and awe of breathtaking kanye

kanye west YEEZUS (Virgin Records)

Before Damien Hirst cut up his first shark, innovative American artist Robert Rauschenberg had taken a stuffed goat, put a car tyre around it and splattered the lot with paint. That was in the 1950s.

In visual art, there's always been someone ready to stir it. Same with music.

However, in an era of music consumption that kicked off when vinyl records replaced Shellac 78s in the early 1950s, things have moved dramatically. First, Presley swivelled his hips. Then, before you know it, Kayne West declares himself a deity and sticks a moustache on the Mona Lisa.


David Bowie's first album in a decade became headline news. Bowie's career was built on innovation, melody and the ability to shock, or at least surprise. One suspects he'll be listening in awe, and not a little envy, to Mr West's dramatic new 10-track collision of styles, genres and rag-bag of lyrical concerns.

This time out, the fashion designer, also known as Kim Kardashian's squeeze, employs shock tactics. If this was a stolen car, West skips the open road preferring to deliver a repertoire of screeching handbrake turns and wheelies on a bomb site.


From the juddering techno opener On Sight, with Daft Punk at the controls, this is a kaleidoscopic and immensely powerful album. West's appropriation of cut-up techniques is breathtaking. Every sonic signature is up for grabs. Chicago house, industrial electro, glam rock beats, proto hip-hop and dancehall ragga all contribute to West's sonic palette.

But it's West's lyrics that are likely to provoke most. The man's message is garbled, with imagery that combines vile misogyny, ludicrous braggadocio, civil rights sloganeering, sexual violence and casual blasphemy.... frequently in the same rap.

Nina Simone's aching Strange Fruit is reduced to a commercial jingle on his domestic soap opera Blood On The Leaves. Bon Iver's Justin Vernon adds some sweetness to Hold My Liquor.

New Slaves is a diatribe against high-end consumerism. I Am A God is Kanye's primal scream.

With unfocused anger a cultural commodity these days, Kanye rocks it. HHHHI