With the media circus surrounding Kanye West — his cameo role in President's Bush's memoir tour, a flipout at Matt Lauer, and a string of seemingly unhinged Twitter musings — the rapper's creative output has taken a backseat to his unpredictable antics. But the Monday release of West's fifth album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, should remind listeners of West's prodigious musical skills. The album has garnered ecstatic reviews (including a buzzed-about perfect 10.0 from the indie tastemakers at Pitchfork), prompted many critics to label it the best of the year, and even earned West comparisons to Michael Jackson. Just how good is this Fantasy?

It's a synthesis of his greatest achievements: In this "maximalist" work, West has woven in some of the best elements from his first three albums, says Ryan Dombal at Pitchfork, so it functions as both a culmination of his achievements and as "an instant greatest hits."
"Album reviews: Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"

The music transcends West's public persona: "If you are one of the many Americans who find Kanye West's attitude distasteful," says Tris McCall at The Newark Star-Ledger, nothing here will change your opinion. But "great musicians aren't always great people," and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is "an album you're going to be hearing about for years." West has "reimagined what a pop recording can do" by fusing a traditional "party hip-hop record" with an "art-rock set that radiates an almost unbearable feeling of desolation."
"Album review: Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"

It embraces his contradictions: West's "curious mix of bravado and vulnerability" is what makes him both "off-putting" and "compelling," says Greg Kot at The Chicago Tribune. He "wants to be understood, but on his terms" — a difficult task, but one that has inspired him to make deeply layered songs about "the disconnect between the artist's intent and the public's perception."
"Turn it up: Album review: Kanye West, My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy"