Released on the 8th August and perhaps one of the most exciting albums of the summer, Watch the Throne is the latest creation of rap royalty Jay-Z and Kanye West. Sixteen tracks long and with a handful of other well-known artists involved, this is a big album in more ways than one. There is perhaps a lack of a fluid narrative, probably an inevitable consequence of having two heavy weights of music trying to work as one, but several songs are master classes of the genre, and what you lose in cohesion you certainly gain in variety and experience. Established influences and connections are utilised again, including Motown legend Curtis Mayfield and Jay-Z’s other half Beyoncé. Kanye brings his creativity, last used to notable effect in his 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Watch the Throne begins with ‘No Church in the Wild’, with a deep, bassy rumbling below Frank Ocean’s naturally (pre-auto-tune) grainy vocals and some of my favourite lyrics on the whole album – “Is Pious pious ‘cos God loves pious?”; a great start. It feels like hearing thunder in the distance and anticipating an electrifying storm, only to be underwhelmed by a light rain shower. The following track, the synthy ‘Lift Off’, is good but not exciting; Beyoncé contributes with a strong performance on the refrain without overwhelming the track, though the lyrics are disappointingly generic – “we gon’ take it to the moon, take it to the stars”. I like ‘Otis’ too, which samples Otis Redding’s ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ effectively.
‘New Day’ is more laid back, and about how the two men would raise their hypothetical children- “I mean, I might even make ’em be Republican, so everybody know he love white people”- with light, cascading vocals falling through the haze. The next track features vocals by Elly Jackson aka La Roux and, too briefly, the brilliant Justin Vernon. Once you get over the improbability of hearing Bon Iver on a track succinctly titled ‘That’s My Bitch’ (it’s no ‘For Emma’), the result is a clever and catchy track that owes more to the two vocalists than lyrical talent.
Addictive track ‘Why I Love You’ is impressive- finally the lightning that the first track led you to expect strikes. Mr Hudson howls soaring vocals (electronically modified as much of the vocals are on Watch the Throne) and with great lines like “f**k you squares, the circle got smaller, the castle got bigger, the balls got taller” these guys are lyrically on heated form; the track is a scrutiny of the theme of “loyalty”. I personally think it’s the best song on the album as it has a different yet instantly familiar sound that makes it more memorable.
For all its depth and diversity Watch the Throne is no Blueprint or Late Registration- it’s hard not to feel that four or five tracks could have been left off with only beneficial effects, there are some I’ll definitely listen to again and some I know I won’t. There is clearly a respectful working relationship behind this album and fans of Jay-Z and Kanye West will love this; less avid admirers will eventually get bored.
Good: Thoughtfully produced and strong performances.
Bad: Lacks pace.