Simon Reynolds writes a simul-review of Axl Rose’s Chinese Democracy and Kayne West’s 808 Heartbreak. Of Chinese Democracy, Reynolds makes the now familiar optigraph:
It would be lovely to think that the vigorously polished turd that is “Chinese Democracy” could serve as the tombstone for an entire era of mainstream rock marred by misguided production techniques pushed by the record industry and radio alike. “Chinese Democracy” takes the two hallmarks of recorded rock sound of the modern era — compression and an over reliance on the digital editing platform Pro Tools — and amps their signature defects to a hideous intensity.
808 Heartbreak is subject and object of technology, also, except in this case the famous Roland 808 drum machine, commonly used in hip-hop songs. But the technologies this album tributes are other–namely, the “woke up this morning/ got me the superstar blues” that Reynolds traces through Nirvana and Puff Daddy albums, and the Auto-Tune technology, commonly used to correct pitch errors, but now used to transform vocal tracks into sad, singing robots with fuzzy pitches. You’ve heard this Uber Auto-Tune in Cher’s song “Believe,” but also on Radiohead and T-Pain albums. Of Kayne’s use of the technology, Reynolds writes,
Jumping on a bandwagon that’s already been around the block several times doesn’t quite fit the profile of a self-styled innovator, but West has made Auto-Tune his own, both by adding extra effects like distortion that push the sound to the edge of pain and by making it the defining sound of his new album.
For me personally, the Kayne album is like nails on a chalkboard. My dislike is of the sonic experience, but also the persona Kayne’s using to promote the album (which is, one expects, fairly close to his lived persona); read Reynold’s bit on this:
If most of the songs address his love woes with an unexpectedly abject vulnerability, there’s a different kind of self-exposure that many will find much harder to empathize with: the mewling of the self-absorbed superstar who’s found — surprise, surprise — that the glittering prizes of wealth and adulation he’s chased so hard make for a hollow-souled hell of a life.
We live in the age of Oprah and bookstore self-help sections so large they threaten to subsume the social science sections. That any performer would be unaware of the soulless pleasures of success, of the dangers of fame, of the isolation of it all…is, frankly, not the foundation for generating sympathy. Since Kayne’s sound is so grating, and so flat, I am compelled to listen to his lyrics, and his lyrics speak to me in absolutely no way.
My suspicion is that interesting things are about to happen in music. This is the end of the stuff that comes before that.