Guys, it’s absolutely fine to have a full album revolve around one song. Already on this list, we’ve had fantastic albums by Laurie Anderson and Kronos Collective (which basically centres around the strings kicking in on Nothing Left But Their Names) and Son Lux (so obviously centred around ensuring All Directions‘ impact is maximised) carefully and artfully centre their records around ensuring one particular genius song hits the listener just there.
This isn’t a slight on the albums. Just because a record centres its impact around one particular song it doesn’t mean the rest of the record isn’t utter genius. It doesn’t even have to necessarily be the best song on the record. ‘OK Computer’ is obviously designed to build up the euphoria when that guitar solo hits in Lucky, much like Best Record Of 2009™ ‘Tarot Sport‘ is constructed so that you lose your shit when Olympians kicks in almost exactly at the record’s middle, while Hotel California is obviously centred around Hotel California because it’s the first track and only song off the album that I or anyone else actually knows*, and ‘Bad Intentions’ by Dappy just wouldn’t be one of the most reverred albums of the 21st century were it not for the musical break in Yin Yang where Dappy recites the stages in the five step Razgar test and wryly questions what Roland Barthes would have said such constrictions on Appendix FM in the immigration law.
(*32 million copies that piece of shit has sold. Just for comparison, that’s more than double the amount of visitors this blog gets every day!)
‘Kids See Ghosts’ musically and psychologically leads into the fifth track (off a seven track album) Reborn. This isn’t a slight on the album. If anything, it’s a compliment on how the record avoids merely being dominated by a song that’s sheer quality would offset lesser albums and leave them distorted and badly weighed. Rather than attempt to top the untoppable and have every other track ignore Reborn’s existence, Kanye and Cudi are smart enough artists to recognise that a song as good as this motherfucker is always going to be the centrepiece and so constructed the album to compliment that and to ensure the song hits in the right way.
‘Kids See Ghosts’ starts off with what might be seemed typical hip-hop braggadocio, though the utterly untypical psychedelic, utterly unique and futuristic production is always inventive enough to call such confidence into question. You’re always questioning whether this tetchy and edgy confidence is the ‘beautiful madness’ mentioned in Fire. The way the song is produced and presented, the way Cudi and Kanye claim how they feel Freeee (those two extra Es add to the darkly humorous self denial) despite obviously struggling within the confines of their mind (“I don’t feel pain any more/Guess what babe, I feel free/Nothing hurts me anymore”). Then, Reborn hits and the facade slips away.
Employing tactics obviously influenced by the mood altering effects of musical backing that Future employed on last year’s song of the year, Mask Off, Reborn combines lyrics telling how absolutely fine the protagonist(s) are thanks for asking, with a backing that exposes the little white lies they’re telling about their mental health. “I’m moving forward/Keep moving forward/keep moving forward” beautifully illustrates the daily grind of people who sometimes feel dominated by the struggle their own brain might choose to bestow upon them. The song calls into question all the boasts made by the protagonists on previous songs, and maybe even exposes the face (or mask) shown in all hip hop. It’s a song that exposes the kayfabe of living with mental illness. You always have to look like you’re reborn, it’s all about convincing other people that you’re moving forward. You keep moving forward. Ain’t no stress on me, lord. I’m moving forward. I think if you asked anyone who knew me how Alex is doing, they’d say the same. “He’s reborn these days! He’s working as an immigration adviser! He’s doing a lot of charity work! He’s moving forward!” But such change is only ever something that other people think you’re experiencing. In my head, it’s all the same. Nothing that happens externally seems to have any effect. Yet, every day I still have to keep moving forward. Keep moving forward. To… oblivion..? Fuck, never listen to this and Mask Off in succession… sad face…
“I had my issues, ain’t that much I could do
But, peace is something that starts with me, with me
At times, wonder my purpose
Easy then to feel worthless
But, peace is something that starts with me (with me, with me)
Had so much on my mind, I didn’t know where to go
I’ve come a long way from them hauntin’ me
Had me feelin’ oh so low
Ain’t no stoppin’ you no way
All things, the night before
Ain’t no stoppin’ you no way
No stress yes, I’m so blessed and
I’m so, I’m so reborn, I’m movin’ forward
Keep movin’ forward, keep movin’ forward
Ain’t no stress on me Lord, I’m movin’ forward
Keep movin’ forward, keep movin’ forward“
Yeah, I had planned to have all five of Kanye’s records released this year to make the list, but I just plum forgot to include Nas’s record. Nothing intended, sir, I promise It’s a really good record too. Not better than ‘Kids See Ghosts’, but what is? Only about seven records released this year oi re’on.
‘Kids See Ghosts’ is an absolutely incredible album, containing some of the best production and work of either man’s career and a far more powerful presentation of mental illness that Kanye’s solo record, which goes for the (often intentionally hilarious) unsubtle approach. Essential.