Kanye West
808s & Heartbreak
(Roc-A-Fella)

So just over a year after his last album, Kanye West returns with his saddo electro opus 808s & Heartbreak. True to its title, the album finds West lyrically heartbroken, but sonically he's at the height of the robot love affair first hinted at with the Daft Punk samples and synths of last year's Graduation. Here, he almost entirely forgoes rapping in favor of Auto-Tuned crooning and boom bap for spare, spacey ballads (though ones still anchored to the titular rhythm box among other percussion, such as the quasi-gamelan drums of "Love Lockdown").

Whether this is a bold personal artistic statement or merely a self-indulgent genre diversion, the result is an occasionally brilliant if uneven album. For every stellar track—the bright-lit neon R&B of "Paranoid," the undeniable pulse of "Love Lockdown," the ear-worming voice-boxed chorus of "Heartless," the works-against-all-odds "RoboCop"—there's monotonous exercises like "Amazing," which Young Jeezy's less-than-amazing guest verse does little to enliven; "Nightmares," which similarly squanders Lil Wayne on some Bright Eyes–style "I'm about to break into tears" overacting; and the throwaway live track "Pinocchio Story," a maudlin, poor-little-rich-boy lament which makes a muddy allegory about authenticity out of the titular Disney character.

808s & Heartbreaks could conceivably cost West a host of fans, assuming people still look to him for hiphop records rather than fashion and interior-design tips, but on the balance, it makes for an entertaining experiment. recommended