Watching the throne may be harmful to your eyes. The long-awaited, wildly hyped joint effort by Jay-Z and Kanye West has arrived at last, and it gives off a gilded glare – both from the actual cover (the deluxe CD edition, designed by Givenchy Creative Director Riccardo Tisci, comes wrapped in embossed gold Mylar) and from Jay and Kanye's lyrics: an onslaught of Rollses and Maybachs and Gulfstream jets, five-star hotels and Audemars Piguet watches. As Kanye puts it in the surging "Otis," this is "luxury rap."
It has a sound to match those grand pretensions. The production – spearheaded by West, with contributions by the Neptunes, Swizz Beatz, RZA and more – is vast, dark and booming. In songs like "Why I Love You," Kanye continues in the sonic vein he introduced in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, lacing the songs with rock dynamics, layering his beats with eerie vocal chorales, piling on proggy flourishes.
Such moments are too scarce on Watch the Throne: More often we hear about "big rocks" and "gold bottles" – which, by the way, rhymes with "scold models." In the midst of an early 21st-century Great Recession, the vicarious experience of opulence may be enough for Jay's and Kanye's millions of fans. But on a record this ambitious, this sonically bold, it's a shame two of music's greatest storytellers don't extend their gaze beyond their own luxe lives.