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Review: Kanye West, The Life of Pablo

Image by Jason Persse https://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonpersse/ via https://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonpersse/5710847832

 

The magnetising, polarising figure of Kanye West has been something to behold over the past few weeks, with a string of tweets, rants and erm, fashion, combining in a wonderful but somewhat tragic media frenzy; culminating in the release of not ‘SWISH’, not ‘WAVES’, but The Life of Pablo.

The Life of Pablo is a collage, a smattering of the sampling and ideas West has become known for, executed in a flurry of egotism and genius. Wheeling in an all star cast from the likes of Rihanna to Kid Cudi, West exhibits yet again a gift for bringing people together, in ways both extravagant and often overwrought.

‘No More Parties in LA’ contrasts the midas touch of madlib with the best of Angry Kanye rapping

An album laboured over for four years, The Life of Pablo has clearly been tinkered with well after completion. There’s an occasional feeling of tracks coming across like a collage of different thought strains with little refinement. A paradigm of Kanye’s thought-process in the public eye perhaps, but one that is executed with enough zeal to make it an altogether enjoyable and sometimes rewarding experience. Tracks like ‘No More Parties in LA’ contrasts the midas touch of madlib with the best of Angry Kanye rapping, eschewing fame over life, Kanye over Kanye – you know the drill.

For the fans of the ‘old Kanye’ (which new Kanye laments in the track ‘I Love Kanye’), there are certainly reasons to be disappointed. It’s unfortunate to see such abstract ideas often left half-baked in the album, some of which appear as loose strands abandoned before they were allowed to reach fruition. Songs like ‘Father Stretch my Hands Pt.1’ showcase the best and worst of the current Kanye. Opening with a a smooth gospel and collapsing into an exceedingly chaotic track, it frustratingly results in one of West’s most distasteful and unhumorous verses, involving bleach and models.

Despite the murky circumstances of its conception, the controversial Taylor Swift lyric on ‘Famous’ is the mark of an artist unbound from any constraint

‘Father Pt.1’ is the album in a nutshell and requires a degree of patience from its listener. Songs need to be chewed on here, listened to more than once to get a flavour. It’s not as refined as Yeezus, certainly not as relatable as The College Dropout, but it is satisfying to peel back into the layers of a Kanye who is caught up in so many things. If you haven’t been reminded already of West’s outlandish nature, it’s present here in the most unkempt way, musically and lyrically. Despite the murky circumstances of its conception, the controversial Taylor Swift lyric on ‘Famous’ is the mark of an artist unbound from any constraint, a constant need to provoke that prevails more than anything else occuring in the album.

Life of Pablo review

This is a Kanye of our own creation, manifested here in his entirety. It might not be what the fans wanted, but Kanye nowadays rarely gives us that anyway; especially as an artist who sees himself as a prodigy tasked with blurring together high art and hip hop in a way only he could demand from his self ascribed genius. Pablo is a take it or leave it kind of album, inviting the listener to contemplate a man who may or may not be worthy of the attention he gives himself. Shards of humility here are buried under excessive talk of excess, contradictions of how we are to both envy and sympathise with a man who is just as ready to proclaim Bill Cosby’s innocence as he is to decry the state of the US college system.

Having listened to Pablo, I’m left wondering what West wants us to think of him. This becomes incredibly difficult to tell within the overly contextualised framing around its release. Chance the Rapper – who delivers possibly the best guest spot on the album (or perhaps Kendrick Lamar), held the release back a day because he wanted to re-record his vocals. Kanye himself ambiguously claimed the album would never be finished. It’s this sense of chaos, transmitted to us through tweets and Kanye’s frustrating public persona that one can’t help feel underpins the listening experience of the album. It all amounts to a murky conclusion about a man, who – despite still being able to wrangle together an album of audacious vision, scope and sonic ambition – just can’t quite put it all together.