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Kanye West names his new album, takes over 'Saturday Night Live,' releases yet another new song

October 5, 2010 | 10:43 am

Continuing the hailstorm of hype leading up to the Nov. 22 release of his "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," Kanye West completed yet another perfunctory appearance in the modern media age: "Saturday Night Live."

And in quintessential Kanye fashion, he used the oppportunity to fulfill his most fustian fantasias. Clad in a gold crown and a radish red leather suit, West looked like Eddie Murphy in "Delirious" trying to impersonate Julius Caesar, with enough gold dangling from his neck to purchase all of Gaul.

But gall is a more appropriate term to describe West's ambitions, which admirably continue to expand, despite the absurd bloat they've assumed. One of Kanye's greatest gifts is his ability to transform the elementary into the event. Nothing he does is quiet and understated. This talent has been apparent since such early production work as Jay-Z's "Takeover," which flipped a Doors sample to terrifying effect, allowing Jay-Z's salvo to achieve an even greater ferocity. Rapping over a Kanye beat is like wearing a mink coat: garish, ornate and a badge of conspicuous consumption.

It's an expensive bar, one difficult to continually top. Over the last few years, he's put on what Ann Powers called an "apocalyptic soap opera," for 2008's "Glow in the Dark" tour. He's evidenced a Murakami fetish. He's done entire auto-tune albums of crestfallen robot love songs. And now he's moved onto an ancient Egypt fascination, complete with a pharaoh chain and couplets about doing unseemly things in a sarcophagus.

His "SNL" appearance found him surrounded by female ballet dancers in all-white, who seemed to be acting out a Dionysian reverie as choreographed by Balanchine and Tom Ford. Performing first single "Power" and the Pusha T-aided douchebag doxology "Runaway," West's performance was long on histrionics. Indeed, the Louis Vuitton don writhed, flailed, dropped to his knees, fiddled with an MPC, and made sure that his performance was memorable.

In that effect, it was relentlessly entertaining. But viewed in the context of its high art ambitions, it straddles the line between absurdity and awesome, depending on your taste for Queen, prog rock, pretentiousness and West himself. Yet if success in the fractured Internet is measured in how well someone can monopolize our notoriously short cultural attention spans, West has done well for himself -- despite releasing songs with regrettable titles such as his latest: "Christian Dior Denim Flow."

We've come a long way since "Tougher Than Leather."

-- Jeff Weiss

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