Kanye West - The Life of Pablo
Feb 16, 2016
It takes 45 seconds for Mr West to make us temporarily forget the interminable car crash that has been the album rollout for So Help Me God/SWISH/Waves/T.L.O.P./The Life of Pablo, with its crowd-sourced and crowd-ignored title and tracklist changes, its deeply questionable twitter pronouncements, and its bizarro-Madison Sq Gdn-refugeezy camp-haute-couture-listening-party. At the 45-second mark, that kick drum knocks on the doors of heaven and Ultra Light Beams announces itself as one of the best songs Kanye has ever made. And it's telling that his role, at least vocally and lyrically, is peripheral. The track is owned by his collaborators: The-Dream, Kelly Price, that transcendent gospel choir, and, above all, Chance the Rapper, who delivers the best bars of his life. It's a stunning beginning to the album.

From that moment of laser-focussed artistry, The Life of Pablo proceeds to implode and rebuild itself in fragments that vary wildly not only in style and in tone, but also, frustratingly, in quality. However, the album is rarely anything but a fascinating listen: its flaws becoming points of interest; albeit disbelieving, mildly repulsed interest.

First things first, let's get an issue out of the way: no one listens to Bad Mood, Always Rude, Spazzing the News-era Kanye for the bars. His flow is, in the most part, pathetically bad. Next to no effort is made to make anything scan and there's little sense of rhythm. As for the actual content, let's just say that on The Life of Pablo, there are three tracks that have generally passable Kanye lyrics ("Real Friends", "No More Parties in LA" and "FML"), whilst the rest lie within a spectrum from barely sensical to utterly risible.


(Review continued in comments due to character restrictions)
Feb 16, 2016
And yet, for all that, Kanye manages to avoid completely ruining his own record, despite the apparently intentional efforts to derail the whole thing at almost every opportunity. The album's inherent unpredictability, its willingness to try and fail horribly, becomes its saving grace. Individual tracks are microcosms of the whole: touched in equal parts by genius and crazed stupidity. ...
Feb 16, 2016
Kanye is a colossal douchebag (by his own admission), but he knows how to create exciting music by employing the kind of production flourishes that would simply never occur to anyone else. The beat change up in 'Famous', the use of Mica Levi's terrifying Under The Skin strings on 'Freestyle 4', the Arthur Russell sample on '30 Hours', the unsettlingly tone-deaf vocalisations at 'FML''s close, the whole instrumental on 'Real Friends'. All of that and more: undeniably brilliant.

Feb 16, 2016
So what the fuck is up with '#FACTS' (no, the new instrumental doesn't save it)? with the half-baked 'Fade'?? with the amount of Chris Brown on 'Waves' (it's hard to understand why Chance fought for its inclusion)??? with the atrociously ad-libbed outro to the otherwise brilliant '30 Hours'???? with the throwaway 'I Love the Old Kanye'????? with the WTF-was-that interludes of 'Lowlights' and 'Silver Surfer Intermission'?!?!?!?!

Feb 16, 2016
Ugh. The Life of Pablo is such a curious beast: a simultaneously intoxicating and infuriating listening experience. Beyond the fact that he clearly doesn't have as much time and painstaking effort to put into his music as he once did, the general impression we get of Kanye is that of a deeply deluded figure with a grotesquely inflated sense of entitlement and no social filter. Kanye will argue that it's all about freedom of artistic expression. That he says what he feels when he feels it. ...
Feb 16, 2016
The problem is that a lot of the time, Kanye sounds like a total fucking moron. Worse, a misogynist moron. He is not a crazy genius and his hilarious false equivalence between genius and mental instability says a lot about his outlook. For him, the unsavoury aspects of his personality are part and parcel of his artistic inspiration. They're not. He's just lost the ability to edit and perform quality assurance on his own output. ...
Feb 16, 2016
He's a Christ figure for the tweeting and tumblring generation: being a colossal twat for our sins so we don't have to. Which makes the isolated moments of startling truth and vulnerability he displays on say, 'FML' and the genuinely sad 'Real Friends' both revelatory and frustrating. Imagine an 18-track album of Emotional Truth Kanye? Imagine. ...
Feb 16, 2016
So, after all that... an alternative tracklist:

Ultra Light Beams
Father Stretch My Hands Pt1
Father Stretch My Hands Pt2
No More Parties in LA
Freestyle 4
Real Friends

That's 11 songs out of 18. Using maths, I've determined that The Life of Pablo should therefore get a score of 61. But allowing for the other great musical moments scattered across the album, I'll give it another 10 points. ...
Feb 16, 2016
And then there's the guilt-inducing fact that I can't stop listening to the damned thing. So help me god, I'm going to have to add another 10 points on top of the previous 10. Feeling generous, I suppose. Not as generous as Pitchfork, but what do I know? Conde Nast aren't making me any offers.

Standout tracks: Ultra Light Beams, FML, Real Friends

Listen if you like: Bad Mood Kanye, Always Rude Kanye, and the three ring circus side show that is the public unravelling of Mr West's psyche.
Feb 17, 2016
pretty spot on review man
Feb 25, 2016
thanks exception - I know it's a bit of a rant (Ye-style) and contains some inaccuracies (turns out the sample on Freestyle 4 is Goldfrapp not Mica Levi), but it was fun to write :)
Jun 18, 2019
Well today I have learned character restrictions used to exist on this website. Smaller ones at least
Jun 20, 2019
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times
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