It hits at the two-minute mark, the realization that “Only One" featuring Paul McCartney isn’t headed into that glorious West-ian stratosphere that we’ve come to expect over the past decade. At the three-minute mark, all hope is lost.
The new track, a sparse ballad to West's daughter North featuring faint backing vocals from McCartney, was released just before midnight on New Year’s Eve. It doesn’t contain a beat – nothing, not even an “808s and Heartbreak” style billowy muffle. Just keyboard chords, gently, unenergetically moving through a vague melody that sounds like an offhanded Stevie Wonder sketch tossed into the trash for obvious reasons.
Sure, “Only One" possesses a touch of West’s signature weirdness, but it’s buried in the chorus, in McCartney’s electronically manipulated harmonies and in the vague threat of distortion that never actually comes to pass.
West is described in a press release as not being able to remember singing the words to “Only One” when he and McCartney were later reviewing the early 2014 sessions that generated the song. The reason? West "realized that perhaps the words had never really come from him … he understood in that moment that his late mother, Dr. Donda West, who was also his mentor, confidante, and best friend, had spoken through him that day ... A message had been passed down through generations.”
It’s a lovely sentiment, this mystical notion of channeling spirits from grandma to granddaughter. But there’s a reason why ghosts don’t write more songs: They can’t. As far as we know only the living can, and to me "Only One" could have used a few more human hands to guide it away from sentimentality toward raw emotion. (It’s the main reason I never need to hear another John Legend ballad.)
Plus, that a Beatle is on it is cool until you recall McCartney’s bland duets with Stevie Wonder ("Ebony & Ivory") and Michael Jackson ("The Girl Is Mine") -- a reminder that a co-sign from a legend is no guarantee of quality. Usually the opposite is true.
There’s another reason to be wary of "Only One": It’s Kim Kardashian’s favorite Kanye song, according to a recent Twitter post. “People always ask me what my favorite Kanye song is and it’s Only One. Kanye feels like his mom sang through him to our daughter," wrote West’s wife (and North’s mother).
That’s a scary thought, given the amount of headspace she occupies in West’s life. Next thing we know he’ll be collaborating with the Kidz Bop kids.
Listen to the new track at West's website.
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit