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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Kanye West : 808's & Heartbreak

In the early 90's Creative Labs had an Eliza-like program included with their sound cards called 'Dr. Sbaitso'. It was an early example of a consumer-level computer program that could create audible speech from typed words. You could tell the good doctor to "say" something and he (generally) would try his level best.

If you followed the link above, you'd be taken back to a sound that will bring about nostalgia for some, disgust for others, a vague familiar feeling for yet others, and an odd mix of the above for a good many. For this writer, it's that familiar disgusting nostalgia that a session with Dr Sbaitso and his ilk (several Apple standard voices are similar) bring flooding back to the senses.

What does this have to do with music, you may be asking yourself. That's really a fine question, and you'd be right for asking if you hadn't paid any attention to modern pop music or have been living under a rock for last several years.

You see, dear reader, the music industry has pulled a fast one on you. They've sold you on a "cool" gimmick (much like bad recordists using gated reverb on drums in the 80's) that covers up the flaws in vocal recording sessions.

If you've heard that metallic, almost other-worldly tambre coming off the voice of your favourite pop star, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Autotune, as it's called, is a blight on modern music. It's lazy and offensive in the fact that real work had to be done for the money that was used to buy what amounts to an inferior product.

Up until recently, I erred on the side of the recordist, probably having to deal with artists who had become self-serving and lazy in the studio. Thus, the occasional, sporadic use of autotune to correct issues or to "pepper" a recording has become pretty standard practice.

And then came Kanye.

I have a hard time calling it -his- album, since all I hear is Dr Sbaitso complaining about this and that to a retro-beat that is sometimes all too thin and other times so noisy one can barely distinguish his "music" from the cacophony of traffic. In a couple of words, it's work to listen to this, well, "album."

Autotune is used on almost ever vocal on every song on the album. After three songs, it's humorous. After six, it makes you want to throw up. After eight, it makes you want to throw the CD out of your car window, or at least ban anything that Kanye has touched from your iPod.

It's clear that Kanye wanted to make an R&B record, but can't carry a tune in a bucket. I can certainly dig the desire to do that which you're just not capable of doing, but if I wanted to listen to a robot sing, I'd just fire up the trusty old DOS machine and ask the good doc to complain about a lost girlfriend.

If Kanye were even half as good as he thinks he is, he would have had someone teach him how to sing in tune, forgone the autotune gimmick and presented us with a record that could be respected, even if his vocals were weak. At least, at the end of the day, he wouldn't have reviewers like this one comparing his "master work" to an Alvin and the Chipmunks record and dismissing it to the bargain bin.

I rate this one, "why oh why did I buy this?" 1/2 of a star, because the coverart doesn't really suck. I hope the artist got paid well, or at least got a good lunch out of the deal.

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