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Kanye West

Kanye West's fourth album stands to be the musical conversation piece of 2008. Easily the sharpest creative turn West has ever made, 808s and Heartbreak is basically just what the title says: a drum machine and a man wallowing in loss. It's West's breakup record, and his swagger has given way to regret, stung pride and catharsis.

But forget for a second the lyrics and Pharrell Williams-like production--West sings, not raps, his way through the whole record, aided by the Auto-Tune vocoder technology popularized by T-Pain. It sometimes is the dominant source of melody, especially on the knockout single "Love Lockdown." "Paranoid" and "Robocop," however, are stacked with tuneful layers.

People might be compelled to call this West's Kid A, after Radiohead's chilly, divergent 2000 record. But it's actually more akin to The Eraser, the digi-minimalist album by Thom Yorke, with some Beck-ian melodrama circa Sea Change. West has been dumped, thrown into a funk-less funk, and is filling up on material possessions that might mask his pain.

West claims he was inspired by Patrick Bateman, the vacuous killer of the novel/film American Psycho. But without Bateman's misanthropy, the comparison falters. In fact, it's hard to feel sorry for West, who, on "Welcome to the Heartbreak," suddenly feels the emptiness of "the good life" he praised on his last album. It's a cliché, but it's the only thing that sounds familiar on the album. 808s and Heartbreak will stupefy almost all its listeners--and the fact that it might polarize people even more than West himself is a towering feat.

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