Album: The Life of Pablo
Artist: Kanye West
Released: 14 February, 2016
If music is truly a reflection of its maker’s mind, then perhaps it really shouldn’t come as such a surprise that Kanye West’s latest effort, The Life of Pablo, is more mess than masterpiece. In an era where excellence in the genre is found in thoughtful, intricately assembled albums (To Pimp A Butterfly) and in powerful, avant garde production (Dirty Sprite 2), Kanye West’s confusing attempt at creativity misses both marks. The Life of Pablo, in truly Kanye fashion, draws parallels between figures as bafflingly disparate as Pablo Picasso, Pablo Escobar and Kanye West. The train of thought is clear; Kanye wants to show the constant struggle between his material and spiritual sides; a fight between his body and soul. It’s an interesting idea and if executed properly could have given the world another glimpse into Kanye’s infamously troubled psyche. Tragically, all the album amounts to is lost potential and a garbled message. The album is more experimental than any of West’s previous efforts, with a variety of styles and sounds deployed – and as is the case with any experiment, the results aren’t always pleasant. The trouble is that the album’s nature and diversity, along with the confused ideas Kanye infuses into it, leaves the album feeling scrambled, patchy and forgettable. Yet, for all that there are still bright spots to be found in The Life of Pablo even if most of the album is destined to be endured instead of enjoyed.
While Kanye might see much of himself, startlingly, in both Pablos, he is unable to weave that dualism into the album itself. Kanye’s spotty lyricism should bear the brunt of the blame for the album’s missing coherence, but his writing in this album is simply the latest symptom of a longer, more insidious trend. The truth of the matter is that ever since College Dropout, Kanye’s musical self indulgence has been slowly but steadily taking over his work. Whether it’s in painfully unnecessary tracks liked ‘Drunk And Hot Girls’ on the otherwise excellent Graduation, or in agonisingly long instrumentation in ‘Runaway’, Kanye has had a history of being far too lenient with his own bad ideas. On The Life Of Pablo, this ill discipline manifests itself in West’s tendency to marr excellent production with bafflingly inane and crass lyricism. For instance, the track ‘Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1’ has a great, poignant melody backed by a soulful choir but the moment is ruined when Kanye turns it into a sordid account of his sex life.
This is not to say that there aren’t moments of genuine quality on the album. Kanye’s greatest strength as an artist has always been his ability to be emotionally open and honest and on a small handful of occasions he is able to marry some elements of that with solid production work to spin out some memorable tracks. Tracks like ‘Famous’, ‘Real Friends’ and ‘FML’ all hit the right notes, both musically and lyrically. Make no mistake, however; although West experiments with several different flows and styles throughout the album, there is precious little of himself in this album. In fact, The Life Of Pablo, is more like half hearted attempt at throwing various experimental tracks together for a mixtape. There is no common theme binding the album together and between the wildly varying song concepts, production styles and basic musical quality, the album ends up feeling bloated. The production work redeems the album to a degree with the heavenly soul of ‘Ultralight Beam’, to the glitz of ‘Famous’ to the rhythmic energy of ‘No More Parties In L.A’. Most of the production isn’t original, revolutionary stuff and certainly, not all of it enjoyable – the track ‘Waves’ comes to mind -but enough of it is good enough to carry the listener through the track. Kanye, unusually, is accompanied by a small legion of co-producers and it’s hard to tell if their influence watered the album’s sound down by injecting familiarity into Kanye’s attempt at something truly innovative or if they kept Kanye tethered enough to reality to keep the album from spiralling out of control entirely.
For an artist whose fame was founded on his knack for bringing new sounds into the mainstream, The Life of Pablo is simply far too tame and forgettable an album by Kanye’s admittedly lofty standards. Combine that with a rash of West’s usual musical antics and eccentricities and you get an album that, despite the occasionally resonance, sounds unpolished and unfinished. Long time Kanye fans will still find just enough value in this record, with its self-referential nature and variety, to keep it from becoming a total commercial disaster but time will judge this album’s merits more fairly than any critic or fan can right now.
No More Parties In LA