Poprok Friday: Why “Love Lockdown” is Kanye West’s Worst Song
Let me preface this by saying that “Love Lockdown” is a good song. Being “Kanye West’s Worst Song” is a pretty good resume for any song to have. However, there’s a strangeness to both the recording and the song itself that can be attributed to many factors. The song is much better than its recording, which is evident by the incredible VMA performance of it Kanye gave on Sunday (download an mp3 of that version here). Both his energy and the energy of the track and the drum line were mesmerizing.
So if I like it so much, why is it Kanye’s worst song? I plan to explain that ad nasueum.
The official recording of “Love Lockdown” is where the problem lies. Something is missing. Maybe it’s the flatness of the recording itself, or maybe it’s simply the fact that the auto-tune-vibrato thing is getting old. To start, the track already has a pretty weird vibe. The drum beat is not as much a beat as it is a bass effect, pounding, obviously, like a heart. This does pick up in the drum-line chorus, which I still think sounded better live. Even the piano, the only other instrument used in the song, comes up short. It’s too flat and too low in the mix, but I don’t want to nit-pick.
OK, to nit-pick, the vocal range in the beginning of the verses is way too low for Kanye. No amount of auto-tuning is going to fix that. As for the chorus, there is too much manipulation of the vocal track for me to handle. I understand the idea of it as a style of producing, but it makes the song downright uncomfortable to sing along with. To be brutal, Kanye sounds bored as he sings the hook. He doesn’t project nearly as well as we know he can, and even seems to be gasping for breaths when he shouldn’t be. It sounds as if this were a test run that accidentally got released as the final version (and what is with that clicking sound? Is that intentional?).
There was much more force and much more emotion in the live performance that introduced the world to the song. Why not stick with that formula? To understand that, we’d have to understand Kanye West – which I don’t think any of us ever will. J Slikk has already recorded a parody…which is mean, but funny. Listening to the recorded version, whether it’s on my iPod or on Kanye’s blog or through my speakers or through anything, makes me wish that this was not the final mix. I almost wonder if Kanye had to play this for anyone for some third party perspective (or second party, for that matter) before releasing it. Something tells me that he didn’t.
On the upside, there are many interesting sounds happening towards the end of this recording. It gives the impression that this may be an experimental record for Kanye. We already know it breaks off from the College theme, with the title 808’s and Heartbreak (even though Kanye announced years ago that his 4th album would be called Goodass Job…get it?). Kanye’s recent break-up with his long-time girlfriend and fiance could definitely have shaken things up for him creatively, and may explain his going off course for a bit. There’s no arguing that this track is different.
Then there’s the most obvious observation; no rapping. Kanye West sings through all verses and choruses of “Love Lockdown,” and there’s that feeling of anticipation for a rap that is never satisfied. Even watching the performance on the VMA’s, I wondered, “why is this intro so long?” and couldn’t believe it when I realized it wasn’t the intro. It was the whole song. Kanye West is singing. And yes, it’s groundbreaking. It’s a virtual 180 stylistically (ok, maybe 90), sending a message that hip hop doesn’t have to be rap oriented. It could, potentially, change the face of popular hip hop as we know it, and that’s exciting.
It’s still Kanye West’s worst song.
EDIT: The song has since been re-recorded and is much, much better. I also think the third party perspective might have come from us.