Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Kanye West ft. Kid Cudi – Welcome To Heartbreak

This is how Kanye is sad in Europe…


Alex Macpherson: “Welcome To Heartbreak” encapsulates everything that shouldn’t work about 808s & Heartbreak. On it, Kanye West gazes deep into his navel, and finds only a sequence of solipsistic, laboriously executed clichés. But somehow, he sells it. The song’s power is in its melody and arrangement, primarily that gorgeous cello line, bleak and imperious; together with the stately piano line and booming drums, it draws the listener in and lends Kanye’s torment a dignity that it doesn’t quite deserve – but nonetheless gets.

Renato Pagnani: I don’t know who (finally) taught Kanye how to ensure his drums slap you across the face, but 808s & Heartbreak is the kind of album that producers are going to be sampling from well into the next decade for their breaks. Here the low-end is storm-like, brewing and sinister, the drums spongy but still devastating. The lyrics are kind of ham-fisted, but crucially, Kanye absolutely nails their delivery; there are few other figures in hip-hop that could make the lines “My friend showed me pictures of his kids/ And all I could show him was pictures of my cribs” sound like the saddest thing ever. Kid Cudi’s vocals float around in the background, sounding like they’re caught in a vortex, flitting in an out of this dimension, displaying his excellent ear for melody. The bottom line: the melodies on 808s are so affecting, so viscerally primal, that “Welcome to Heartbreak” only scores a 7 because the rest of the album is that good.

Al Shipley: For all his talk of packing hooks galore into the songs on 808s, this is pretty much the only track that actually pulls together different vocal melodies for verses, chorus and bridge. And the extra effort to actually approach the level of craft of the R&B Kanye is so poorly emulating is appreciated, especially on those catchy little falsetto hoots, but it’s still got the stench of its surrounding album all over it.

Chuck Eddy: Depressed hollow emo-rap sound — just like every other single Kanye has released lately. None of which is news, obviously. And none of which I enjoy nearly as much as “Day ‘N Night,” for whatever that’s worth. But was the kid’s report card good, or not? (Fairly certain I’d like that verse more if David Lee Roth suddenly piped in: “HAVE YOU SEEN JUNIOR’S GRADES??”)

Edward Okulicz: If Kanye is trying to say that despite his materialist trappings he longs for the simple pleasures of low-key family life, it’s a pity he so thoroughly fails to convince us of his first-class disillusionment with such third-rate rhymes. He casts himself a completely unsympathetic figure here, even putting some unpleasant and unnecessary autotuned wailing over his own tasteful musical set pieces. Make no mistake, there’s some great work in this song – it’s just forced to take a back seat to trite nonsense.

Anthony Easton: I continue to be fascinated in how Kanye treats the studio as a way to manipulate organic forms; the Sergio Leone introduction leads into one of the more self-reflexive moments that he has ever had. The autotune reflects the social isolation that he feels, and it becomes a corrective to the bitches and bling, or would be, if I did not think it was another cynical ploy from a genius who knows what his audience desires.

Rodney J. Greene: Kanye sings from somewhere in the first-class section of an autotuned wind-tunnel because he stumbled in there after misplacing his pathos.

Ian Mathers: You know, maybe if we could get Kanye’s obsession with himself and his autotune out of the way, this wouldn’t be half bad. It’s certainly well constructed, but he doesn’t sing about his neuroses with enough force or detail to make me care.

Jordan Sargent: Here Kanye outlines what should be a core tenet of pop music: How do you offset clunky lyrics? With a massive synth riff. The one snaking through “Welcome to Heartbreak” is maybe the best pure musical moment on 808s & Heartbreak and it leads to a final ninety seconds that are times overwhelming, with the synth riff pummeling away and Kanye harmonizing over it in his wounded robot voice.

Hillary Brown: I know, I know. He’s a whiny bastard and he could have avoided everything he’s complaining about by being less materialistic in the first place. But I think this is a fairly strong intro to the record, which doesn’t really make excuses so much as just lay out issues. That said, it doesn’t stand super-well as a single, although it does have plenty of the dark, layered production that runs through the rest of the album.

Additional Scores

Colin Cooper: [4]
Tal Rosenberg: [3]
Martin Skidmore: [6]

19 Responses to “Kanye West ft. Kid Cudi – Welcome To Heartbreak”

  1. this is easily my favourite track on 808s, my [9] is less due to how I rationally evaluate it and more an honest reflection of the amount of time I’ve spent earworming it. most of the rest of the album has palled by now.

  2. Extremely odd choice of (UK) single from Kayne, this one. It’s the track from his patchy Autotune record 808s and Heartbreak that most fully explores West’s (until recently) current existential crisis: materialism. We’re encouraged to believe that Kanye wants to settle down, take a step back from hip hop and its various excesses, and perhaps grow up a bit, too. Trouble is, the latter is going to be pretty difficult while he’s rhyming words like “report card” with “sports car” and “kids” with “cribs”.

  3. I don’t know how you could not like “808”. It’s his best.

  4. Bits of it are great, for sure. But the album kind of goes out of it’s way to make you wish he’d made an EP out of the good bits and thrown a lot of the lyrics on a fire. Mine came with a free poster of his dead mum, for crying out loud. What am I supposed to do with that?!

  5. I feel as if I am more or less alone in finding that heavy vocoder effects make it almost impossible to feel any emotion in the vocals. For me, this makes everything sound kind of robotic and therefore no feelings are conveyed. Obviously I am very much a fan of soulful singing (old black R&B or old white country styles, whatever), so maybe this is more of a problem for me than most. Maybe it’s just being old and therefore not being down with what is currently with it as far as the kids are concerned.

  6. I’m not particularly an 808s hater but it’s so clearly Kanye’s worst album. Actually, each of his albums has been worse than its predecessor.

  7. Hey Martin — For whatever it’s worth, I’m old, too. Maybe even older than you. And I’ve been hearing emotion in vocodered vocals over three decades now, but almost all of the current Autotune r&b I’ve heard has left me cold, too. And even when I do detect emotion in it, that’s usually not enough, since often emotion is all I hear — compared with lots of vocodered r&b and rap of the early ’80s, the new stuff just seems way too reserved and self-serious to me. I’m still waiting for T-Pain or Kanye to come up with something comparable to, say, my favorite Zapp or Jonzun Crew or Soul Sonic Force or Mantronix or Maggotron songs. So far, they haven’t even come close.

  8. Martin, I think the autotune specifically removes the emotion from the song. It’s meant to make Kanye sound numbed and distant rather than just sad. I keep comparing this album to Kid A, and this song is one where the comparison works well.

    I wish I’d had time to blurb this, and given it the [9] it deserves.

  9. Yeah, I get more emotion out of Zapp and Roger than I do out of the hollow gremlining of “Lollipop” or most of this album.

    I’m totally puzzled as to how this intro (and that’s pretty much what it is, just an extended intro) is a candidate for a single. And Kid Cudi barely does anything on it. Even where Kanye intros are concerned, this isn’t nearly as poignant or dynamic as “Good Morning,” which slapshots this paltry track into oblivion.

  10. Y’all calling this an intro do remember that it’s track 2 on 808s, right? If anything is an intro, it’s “Say You Will.”

  11. Jonathan is right, of course. The autotune has a very deliberate effect on the emotional weight of the album. It’s a concept album about materialism, technology, the numbing, detached effect of it — in my opinion the reason for the autotune is as obvious as the sun. And it works: Every corner of ‘808’ is stainless steel, Ikea shelves, automatic dimmer lights.

  12. On promo copies, this is track 1, and “Say You Will” is like track 9 or something. Which works much better tbh.

  13. What lex said, but thanks for the correction J-Brad, I should fix that.

    The only effect I see for the autotune is to obfuscate the materialism instead of bringing it to the surface. But I also don’t believe for a second that the inanity of Kanye’s lyrics and his extremely rote self-analysis is part of a conscious character design. He’s saying what he means, and what he’s saying isn’t particularly interesting.

  14. Man, I’d written so much about this album when it came out that I figured leaving fresher voices to discuss this track’s brilliance would be a wise move. Never again. This is one of the highlights of 808s, and while it certainly contains all of the album’s flaws, that synth-cello riff is GORGEOUS. I kind of prefer the original leak that kept the strings straight through the song.

  15. I’m older than either Chuck or Martin, and this’d have gotten an 8 or 9 from me, and I hear it as swamped in emotion. Also, when I notice lyrics and find them interesting I can go on for pages and pages about them, but when I don’t notice ’em – as in this case, so far – or don’t care about them they often have no effect on my liking for a song.

    I don’t see why someone should use AutoTune/Vocoder like it’s the early ’80s any more than they should use falsetto like it’s the early ’60s. Which doesn’t mean that you won’t dislike how they’re using it now, but the fact that they’re using it differently (i.e., not for comic or futuristic effects), or the fact that they’re self-serious, or whatever… Well, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being self-serious, it depends what you do with it, right?

    It’s not obvious to me what the AutoTune signifies from song to song anyway. This track seems really lo-tech and fuzzy and staticky in comparison to all the glint and glitter that adorned Rihanna and her shiny dangerous city in “Disturbia.” This one’s more like refracted sadness.

  16. Well, I never said the new guys should use Vocoders like the early ’80s. And those ’80s (to early ’90s, at least) records I mention weren’t all merely comedic or futuristic; they didn’t tend to let their beauty detract from their energy or vice versa, and several of them felt really ominous and austere — as lots of electronic pop (and non-electronic pop too, duh) had been before they existed (numbed distance has been a dumb technopop cliche since who, Suicide’s Alan Vega?), and as lots has been since. Thing is, if today’s Autotune troops are adding something new, or replacing what they’ve taken out with something equally compelling, I’m just not hearing it, or feeling it. Doesn’t mean it’s not there, of course. And also doesn’t mean I’m fully articulating why I think this new music falls so far short of the older stuff I like. (Or that some of the new stuff won’t eventually hit me deeper, at some point.)

  17. Normally I’m with you on the lyrics, Frank, but when an album is as naked as this is (and that’s not saying an R&B album can be any more or less naked than a folk album or a rock album or otherwise), and especially when Kanye puts his vocals above the music (which he does often) it’s hard not to hear a line like the “kids/cribs” one and wince a little.

    Now, this is not to say that because Kanye’s happiness comes from material wealth it’s any more or less artificial than anyone else’s. But it’s also not one I haven’t heard before, and I just don’t think that anything that Kanye does musically makes it any more compelling. My blurb that wasn’t printed was snarky, but I compared this song to Linkin Park, and I think the comparison is apt. The scenery is bombed out but there’s shrapnel everywhere, and the shrapnel is a distraction and a tacky decoration. It doesn’t add anything to the song, and the hollowness feels like a drawback, whereas on “Good Morning,” for instance, the echoes on the percussion and the watery vocal are the same shrapnel but they to the song’s strengths.

    There are lots of songs that use AutoTune that I love, and one of them is coming up soon.

  18. I think it’s clear, whatever your overall opinion on 808s, that Kanye is using the autotuner on this album very differently from how T-Pain and Lil Wayne (although here is where it gets complicated—Weezy has used it to a similar effect on some songs too) are using it.

    Maybe I like 808s so much because I’m one of the younger guys here?

  19. Well I never liked the effect in the old days either – I imagine there are Zapp and Roger reviews on that old funk thread on ILX that said the same thing. I can’t read it as conveying some particular emotional state when someone is using it on every track, or when most of a genre seems to be using it, whatever kind of song it is. I can hear numbness and alienation and all that in Alan Vega, but when it’s an electronic effect pasted onto just about everything, it doesn’t carry that sense for me at all. Yeah, I know Frank for one is older than me here (Chuck isn’t – Dave, maybe?), but as I say, I never liked it decades ago either. Maybe hearing so much of it on the kinds of music I usually like very much will gradually change my mind, but I don’t detect signs of that so far.