The Throne [Kanye West & Jay-Z] - Watch the Throne (Album Review)
I just finished listening to the Kanye West and Jay-Z collaboration album Watch the Throne. Being a longtime listener of both of these artists, I originally did not intend to write a review for this album for fear of coming across as biased. After listening to Watch the Throne, however, I felt that I had to comment on it. Do not mistake my compulsion as a testament to the greatness of this effort, however. Instead, consider it as a response to a project that so defies any sort coherent analysis that I had to say something, no matter how nonsensical it may seem at times. In the end, this is just an album you have to listen to for yourself.
Some Sort of Structure
The thing that puzzles me about this album is the way that it somehow makes sense despite the fact that it has no discernable structure. The subject matter is all over the place. With topics ranging from religion to politics to racism, there is no unifying theme to tie the tracks together. The album, in a sense, tries to be everything and, in so doing, becomes nothing in particular. In fact, the listener really doesn’t know what to expect from one verse to the next, let alone from one track to the next.
The pacing of the album is very interesting, also. As far as actual running time is concerned, it is a very short listen. Not only that, but it feels like a very short album. The durations of individual tracks go from less than two and a half minutes to over five minutes in some places. Watch the Throne does not really give the listener enough time to truly love or hate anything. If a certain song is not really working for some reason, it will most likely be over before you have a chance to complain about it, so it becomes tolerable. Because of this, one can very easily let the album run for its entirety with no need to skip around.
Also, the production involves enough constant movement and variances within the tracks themselves that one can never truly settle into one particular frame of mind. The track will start out soulful, take an edgy turn in the middle, and then end on something that sounds like it came out of the movie, Amelie. No joke. This happens more than a few times when this French (or maybe even Italian)-style melody just appears on a track out of nowhere. It sounds like the remnants of a concept album that was abandoned but not completely erased.
The Kanye/Jay-Z Collaboration Itself
This isn’t the first time that Kanye and Jay-Z have done work together, but it is the first time that they have tried to sustain their interaction over an entire body of work. The problem here, I think, is that the two don’t really complement each other vocally and stylistically. This is just my opinion, but I feel that when two artists team up, they should have a distinct sound as a unit that they don’t have separately. Even when Kanye and Jay-Z exchange in alternating wordplay within verses, they seem disjointed most of the time. That’s not to say that they don’t have moments of combined excellence, but the overall effect just doesn’t feel right for some reason.
Watch the Throne delivers the complex lyrics and turns of phrase that fans are used to hearing from Jay-Z and also the playful, punch-line savvy tactics that make Kanye enjoyable. What you won’t hear, however, is a unique merger of the two artists that creates a separate entity leaving you hungry for the next verse. There’s no separate beast named “KanJay” or “Jay-West” to contend with on the album. Jay-Z and Kanye both move in their own spheres, and I just don’t feel like they can effectively share the same space for very long. Given their respective levels of popularity, though, I recognize that most people probably won't care about this point and will cling to whatever they've come to appreciate from each, regardless of how they sound together. Still, I wanted to point it out. Watch the Throne doesn’t fail to showcase the talents of either Jay-Z or Kanye; it just doesn’t succeed in demonstrating the effectiveness of their chemistry as a single unit.
All things said, I don’t think that it’s possible to dislike Watch the Throne, but I don’t see it as an album that will stay in heavy rotation on anyone’s sound system for very long. For what it is, I think that the album is enjoyable, absent absurd expectations. It’s a quick listen that has a certain charm as a novel experiment involving two respected artists. It’s nice just to be able to say that Kanye and Jay-Z did it.