You can call this self-indulgent and overly ambitious all you want, but I would have to ask: Who have you been listening to for the past three albums? The Kanye I know has had this up his sleeve from the start; he's just never had a valiant enough excuse to use it.
The thing about 808s & Heartbreak is that it's bleak, it's morose, it's emotionally stunted and a little sappy. Hey...it's a break-up album. And what's more (in true Kanye fashion), it strives to be the break-up album. In a general sense, the whole revolutionary aspect of this is a little overblown. But...of course it is, this is Kanye West. The truth is that 8o8s & Heartbreak is actually quite revolutionary. But only in regards to West. The percussion program from which the album takes its moniker is as crisp and clean as the synth hooks are muddy and foreboding. But it's West that aims to come off as damaged and exposed as his words will allow.
As you know, West sings roughly the entire album behind the guise of the dreaded Vocoder. The idea sounded a little T-Pain to me at first, but once you get passed the gimmickry, there is something to be said about the layer of confusion and facade that the technique provides for the tone of the album. Whether West is masquerading as something that he is not out of fear and anger, or if he has genuinely become something else entirely is kind of the whole point here.
Thematically, 808s & Heartbreak is both completely obvious and actually kind of subversive in a refreshing way. It is all at once heartfelt, sarcastic, vicious and broken. And it accomplishes these things well underneath the surface of bare-bones pop production with a mismatched sheen that only puts at the forefront the vulnerability of West's silly prose seen under a brand new light. This is the best album of the year.