Written in the aftermath of the death of his mother and his break-up with fiancée Alexis Phifer, 808s & Heartbreak marks a shift in Kanye West's musical direction, his usual hip-hop style replaced by a minimal electropop sound based on the Roland TR-808 drum machine.
But the most striking change is his decision to sing rather than rap, and to employ the vocal Auto-Tune technology with a brazenness that makes it integral to the album's design. It may be an attempt to reflect the heartbreak of the title, or a way to disguise the pain in his voice. The album involves a deeper immersion in personal misery than is comfortable, Kanye complaining about his girlfriend's suspicious nature, the cooling of their ardour, and how badly life is treating him. "Where did my life go wrong?" he bleats in "Welcome to Heartbreak", regretting not having children – though it's hard to feel sympathetic when his pain apparently derives from only getting "a sports car" rather than "a report card". The stylistic tropes quickly become irritating; and closing with the hidden live-freestyle track "Pinocchio Story" is a mistake, its self-recrimination over his mother's death (while undergoing cosmetic surgery) packing a direct emotional punch that renders the previous tracks ersatz.
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