Kanye West is rattled. His fourth album is a slow plunge backward into an awful last year — engagement called off, mother dead — and despite the adorable deflated heart balloon on the cover, it's not just sadness that makes these songs tick. There's a broader range of bad feelings: rage, grief, and loathing all mixed up and fighting for attention.
Kanye is after a very specific sound on this release, the dead-eyed, auto-tuned vocals and canned pianos contributing to a harrowing vision of emotional shellshock. The songs bleed into one another; only "Love Lockdown," with its magnificent drum breakdown, really grabs you by the throat.
There are also more outright failures than you'd expect — especially "RoboCop," with its awful chorus — and some of it sounds too much like the soundtrack to a moody action flick. But then there's "Bad News," with a gentle dubstep patter and Kanye's voice breaking behind the software. Does it speak well for this record that I'm genuinely worried about him now?