With every album expected to be released in 2016, few have had the same amount of hype as Kanye West’s seventh solo record,
So Help Me God, SWISH, Waves, The Life of Pablo. Much like Rihanna’s Anti, the release of this record has been a messy, rushed, and ineffective affair on behalf of that god forsaken streaming service, Tidal. The result of this has seen The Life of Pablo fail to chart, as well as being illegally torrented over 500,000 times. Not only this, but Kanye himself has made it even harder to be fan of him by generally being an idiot over social media. From starting pointless beefs with Wiz Khalifa to proclaiming Bill Cosby ‘innocent’ to posting pictures of himself illegally downloading music.
But while so much strain is put on Kanye’s apparently dwindling fanbase, at least we can rely on the music being good. Kanye’s last two albums have been exceptionally brilliant, and this album has been preceded by a stream of great singles; ‘Real Friends’, ‘All Day’, ‘No More Parties in LA’, and the live performance of ‘Wolves’ with Sia and Vic Mensa. So when The Life of Pablo was released, there was understandably a lot of buzz around it, even with Kanye changing the track listing every couple of days. And as a Kanye fan, I can try and defend him as much as I like, I can insist that he is relevant and that his music is brilliant, and I can scorn people who sign banal petitions claiming he shouldn’t headline major music festivals. But at the end of the day, The Life of Pablo is a disappointing album.
The obvious criticisms of this album are that it’s too long and unfinished, which are very valid points. I mean did we really need ‘Silver Surfer Intermission’ or ‘Freestyle 4’? No, no we did not. They’re both self-gratifying filler tracks that don’t add anything to the structure of the record. One of the more promising tracks on this record, ‘Wolves’, feels like it’s been completely scribbled out and hastily redrawn. Kanye repeats lines over and over, like he’s struggling to come up with something new, as well as sprouting some awful lines about Mary and Joseph. I don’t know where Sia and Vic Mensa have gone, but could someone please bring them back. However, saying that, the transition from distorted wolf cry to Frank Ocean’s hollow vocals is one of the best bits on the album. Then on the following track, ’30 Hours’, Kanye spends a good two minutes talking over the same instrumental loop. He even answers the phone.
But the problems with the album are more than just that; there are some songs on here that are actually among the worst things Kanye has even released. ‘Facts (Charlie Heat Version)’ is a good example of this; this song wasn’t good when it was first released, and a remix doesn’t make it any more appealing. The lyrics are incredibly boring, with Kanye obsessing over his business problems which quite frankly I couldn’t give two hoots about. The song ‘Feedback’ has a terrible beat, and while the lyrics touch on some relevant matters, the Oprah bit at the end makes it redundant. Elsewhere Kanye drops some lyrical trash on this record; see ‘Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1’ (‘If I f**k this model/and she’s just bleached her arsehole/and I get bleach on my t shirt/Imma feel like an asshole’) and that controversial track ‘Famous’ (‘I feel like me and Taylor could still have sex/I made that bitch famous’). Jesus Kanye, I thought you said the writer’s block was over.
And do you know what the really irritating thing is? If the track listing had been cut in half and Kanye had put all his skill into those nine tracks, we could be looking at one of the best albums of his career. There are some seriously brilliant cuts on here; ‘No More Parties In LA’ is an obviously excellent track, with some brilliant production by Madlib and killer verses from both Kanye and Kendrick Lamar. ‘Real Friends’ is another lyrically great track, and an soft instrumental with some muted keys and a gentle beat, with some lyricism that echoes back to Kanye’s College Dropout days, and as I said earlier, if ‘Wolves’ was slightly different, it could be one of Kanye’s best tracks to date. Opener ‘Ultra Light Beam’ is heavenly, majestic and overall an amazing track, with one of the best verses on the album, courtesy of Chance the Rapper.
And despite the underlying flaws in this record, there are still points where Kanye’s (sigh) genius shines through. Lyrically throw backs to his past and his relationship with the celebrity are reminiscent of his better work, even if these moments land in less than decent tracks, such as on ‘Famous’. I mean, sometimes I can’t tell if it’s genius or stupidity, especially on lines like: ‘I bet me and Ray J would be friends/If we ain’t love the same bitch/Yeah he might have hit it first/Only problem is I’m rich’. Then new tracks introduce some new, actually brilliant ground, such as the ‘I Love Kanye’ skit, which is actually clever and funny. Then the darker track ‘FML’ featuring The Weeknd is a nice throwback to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but somehow darker. The closer ‘Fade’ is not a terrible track either, certainly ending the album on somewhat of a positive note.
On the whole, this is not Kanye’s best release; it’s messy, half-baked, and with some absolutely terrible lyrics in places. But the thing that saves it from being a total train wreck are the songs that are actually very good, plus some moments of lyrical genius and expert production. It’s a real shame The Life of Pablo came out the way it did, especially with all the promise it had, but in the end, it would appear Kanye’s ego got the better of this project. Twitter feuds and false releases have a bigger impact than most of the songs on this record. Here’s hoping Turbo Grafx 16 is better.