Kanye West – The Life of Pablo (Album Review)

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Rating: 7/10

Look, I understand that sometimes it can be difficult to separate an artist’s personality from his work. Especially in today’s society where the former is emphasized just as much as the latter (if not more so), with celebrities’ private lives constantly put under a microscope. But I do believe that the art, especially when powerful, can become the be-all, end-all for both the creator and the consumer. Kanye may have said and done things that I don’t personally agree with, but he’s only human and who am I to judge anyway? I don’t know him, and discussing his scandals and controversies makes about as much sense to me as being concerned with your microwave manufacturer’s backstory. Sure, you can read into it for purely informational purposes, but the product working well for you is the only thing that should matter in the end.

And Kanye’s been putting albums that I’ve enjoyed for more than 10 years now. It helped to know that 808s & Heartbreak was written while he was going through a break-up as well as dealing with the death of his mother, but I enjoyed that album first and foremost because the music itself was good. Same with The College Dropout. Same with Yeezus. Now I would love to say that The Life of Pablo continues what looked like this unstoppable spree of successful albums, but unfortunately I feel it rather puts a stop to it. It’s not bad by any means, it’s just that a lot of the material feels unfinished and directionless – and most of it is situated right in the middle of the album. The 6-song stretch from Feedback to Waves passes without making an impact of any sorts – often Kanye seems to be going for that in-the-moment delivery and vibe that characterized Yeezus, but whereas a song like New Slaves felt both spontaneous and well-constructed, Freestyle 4 and Feedback just sound underdeveloped. And the piano-driven sermon of Low Lights would’ve worked much better as part of a bigger song.

Things get a lot better in the album’s longer numbers. A song like Ultralight Beam may not break any new ground, but it shows that Kanye is still capable of mixing hip-hop beats with gospel choirs and lyrics, as well as choosing the perfect guest collaborator in Chance the Rapper. The results are just as spiritual as Jesus Walks or Never Let Me Down. In terms of samples, Wolves contains perhaps the most haunting and eerie of his whole career, while in terms of flow nothing really comes close to No More Parties in L.A. – Kendrick racing Kanye back-to-back over a Madlib-produced beat, with the winner still uncertain. I know some fans thought I wouldn’t rap like this again / But the writer’s block is over, emcees cancel your plans indeed. And way too many people focus on the Taylor Swift line in Famous when the real attraction is in fact that bumpin’ groove that eventually culminates in the dancehall sample.

In retrospect, all the hype around the album built up by the delaying of its release, the re-releases, the altering of the track-list and so on seems a bit silly. What we eventually got was far from a masterpiece, in fact, it was the first time a Kanye album felt like he hasn’t much left to say. And I mean that both lyrically (more lines stick in your mind because of their shock value rather than their cleverness) and musically (the beats lack a unified vision in the way The College Dropout had the chipmunk-soul thing and Yeezus was all about its abrasiveness). The Life of Pablo was still better than most of its contemporary hip-hop records, but within Kanye’s career it counted as a first worrying sign for things to come.

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Categories: Album Reviews

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11 replies

  1. Freestyle 4 is amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel like your point about separating an artist’s work from his personality and beliefs makes sense in a general way, but not so much when talking about an album like TLOP. You really can’t help but get involved in Kanye’s personal life while listening to songs such as Famous or Facts.

    While some pieces of art can be takes as-is, others can’t be separated from their creator as easily.

    Otherwise, great review! Hoping his next album will surprise us.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m a bit of a fan. Actually missed Yeezus, as there was a whole lot going on, but it’s on my list to pick up. 808’s might be the only album I couldn’t quite get into… I think because it felt cold. Perhaps that was intentional? Remove himself from the emotion of where it can from… or maybe that’s just my interpretation of it.

    I’ve been keen to hear this, but he hasn’t made that too easy! As far as I understand it, the bootleg vinyl is highly sought after and goes for a a bit of cash.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I will admit that for Kanye I have a hard time separating the public personae and the artist. He annoys me for some strange reason so I can’t get past that on his music so I just don’t listen to him. Someday I will get over that and truly listen.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. With so many real artists who create music without resorting to being the poster boy for Assholiness I don’t see why anyone would choose to stomach “music” from someone who has to sample all of the classic riffs, interludes, hooks, and main themes from original artists to basically “make it” in any business.
    http://www.theverge.com/2014/8/20/6048381/kanye-west-samples-listenable-history
    I dig sampling, but mentally-deficient Fishdix made a career out of it. And besides, there are some “people” who are just too repugnant to even consider allowing their “music” to pollute one’s environment.
    There is no separation of personality and talent with Kanye West as he has neither.
    00individual speaks Tribal Truth. And you know it too.

    Like

    • I can tell from your comment right away that you never really listened to his full albums, so anything I say won’t convince you otherwise. But anyway…what Kanye does with samples goes beyond just copying them. In the same way any band uses a thousand year old chord sequence and then adds their thing to it until it becomes something completely new. No melody is 100% original, it’s all about what you make with it. Same applies to Kanye’s samples. He takes both classic and obscure sounds and turns them upside down, chops them, speds them up, incorporates them. Sometimes he’ll take just a couple of seconds of a backing vocal and make an entire song from it (Good Morning). If you think anybody without talent could do that…then I just dunno what to say. This is MY truth, and also the truth of those who’ve spent time studying his music. No harm meant, but I just have to completely disagree with you on this one.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Astute observation, which is why I never needed to listen, as explained previously. I know I’m in the vast minority, as most appear to really like him, which only moves the conversation to the declined state of music today.
    When you get to be my age hopefully you will understand that it’s not about unsubstantiated rejection its about a refined knowledge of one’s taste and preference of precious time spent – no matter how old you are.
    I don’t throw my two cents around much – just had to balance out the glowing comments from someone not under the spell.
    Rock On!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. While I respect YOU as a blogger and for sharing your opinions (very important for blogging), I have no respect for Kanye West. The guy sucks, plain and simple. I would ask that you listen to great music, like Hatebreeds “Perseverance”, Avenged Sevenfolds “Nightmare”, Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter”, Dr Dre’s “2001” and THEN come back and tell me how great Kanye West is.

    Like

  8. While some pieces of art can be takes as-is, others can’t be separated from their creator as easily.
    There is no separation of personality and talent with Kanye West as he has neither.

    Like

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