Imagine abstaining from premarital sex because your boss tells you the work demands it… and then finding that the product of your self-repression includes the line “Closed on Sunday. You my Chick-Fil-A.”
Yes, Kanye West’s long-delayed ninth album, Jesus Is King, is here. And in a way, it’s just what he promised—albeit very very late. There are gospel choirs and Biblical references and admonitions of his prior sins.
And yet, even with expectations low given all of his missed deadlines, canceled albums, and eyebrow-raising public appearances these past few years, Jesus Is King is profoundly underwhelming. The problem isn’t the production—even if West is no longer tapped into the sonic Zeitgeist, as a producer, he's still Ye (there’s a little Yeezus, a little 808’s, and some great gospel samples). The problem is West, the preacher.
As much as you may laugh—or shake your head—at the Chick-Fil-A line, it’s one of the few memorable verses on Jesus Is King. The album is a mere 27 minutes, which, with the way streaming has stretched out albums to their fluffiest, might have you thanking God. But whereas West’s previous album, the seven-song Ye, seemed to be using minimalism as a counter-tack, it now seems like West simply has next to nothing to say. Jesus Is King is one extended prayer-hands, devoid of true religious fervor or feeling. You get the impression he’s been throwing himself in the water again and again to force himself to swim.
Though Jesus Is King is a sparse record and one that doesn’t meet the outsized hype (that’s on us as much as Kanye), there are some solid moments. “Follow God,” with its Whole Truth sample, kind of bangs. The rippling “Water” is the best baptism song I, for one, have ever heard. And Kanye’s singing on “God Is” actually sounds heartfelt.
Yesterday, West talked—sure, not totally coherently—about being “God’s practical joke on liberals.” And sure, okay. But Jesus is best when Kanye has a sense of humor about this whole godforsaken God project, and in particular when he’s at his schlockiest. When we all have a bit more emotional distance—this morning I wanted to smite he who made me wake up before the sun for no reason—we might better appreciate head-scratching moments like the Chick-Fil-A line.
Which brings me to my favorite song on the album: “Use This Gospel.” The Clipse verse—“A lot of damaged souls, I done damaged those / And in my arrogance, took a camera pose / Caught with a trunk of Barry Manilows”—is very good (welcome back, No Malice) and all. But the much-ballyhooed Kenny G solo is the most ecstatic moment on an album that can sometimes be as dry as the Jerusalem desert. It’s fun, it’s unexpected, it’s a little sexy. It’s the rare moment that actually feels divine, all praise to the Sax God.
Originally Appeared on GQ