Album Review: The Life of Pablo – Kanye West
I’d like to get one thing out of the way; everything about this album is a trainwreck. I mean that in the best possible way
The Life of Pablo is Kanye West’s seventh studio album, and the hotly anticipated follow-up to his mercurial 2013 release, Yeezus. The amount of buildup and hype leading up to the release of this album is unlike any other album I’ve seen, and it’s apparently gone through several different variations (in 2014, actor Seth Rogen claimed Kanye rapped the entire album to him in the back of a limo). Ultimately, what we got was a collection of 18 messy, eclectic tracks.
There is little to no coherence in the flow of the album, save for the two-part tracks like “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1/Pt. 2,” “Low Lights/Highlights,” and “Real Friends” and “Wolves.” This disorganization plays a huge role in making this album look and feel like a trainwreck. As with most trainwrecks, you know it’s terrible, but there’s something about it that captures your attention. I’m not exactly sure what it is for me, but I think it’s got to do with Kanye’s mental state portrayed throughout the album. He’s played the part of the paranoid before (much of the back half of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was this version of Kanye), but on TLOP, he actually sounds like he’s going insane.
Consider the track “Freestyle 4;” it opens with sample of the incredibly eerie strings from Goldfrapp’s “Human,” and Kanye rapping in short, choppy sentences. The drums and record scratch give off the feeling of unintentional nervous twitches and ticks. His lyrics are unbelievably misogynistic. As the track goes on, Kanye descends deeper and deeper into madness, in his flow and in his lyrics.
There’s a huge disparity in the quality of the tracks, too. Around half of the tracks feel half-baked, with only a few feeling like a finished product. “Real Friends” and “No More Parties in LA” both shine brighter on the album than they did as singles, simply because the quality of most tracks pale in comparison. Opener “Ultralight Beam” sets the bar high for the rest of the tracks in terms of polish, and the album suffers because of it. Many of the rougher tracks have good ideas in the beats and production, but don’t seem fully realized or suffer from very poor lyrics from Kanye.
Lyrically and thematically, TLOP mostly addresses relationships and family. On “Real Friends,” Kanye talks about how a cousin of his stole his laptop and held it for a bribe. We hear Kanye get choked up as he’s rapping about this betrayal, showing emotion that we haven’t seen much of since 808’s & Heartbreak. However, the one-liners are among his worst, with just about every track having something to groan about. On Yeezus, most of these lewd quips were amusing and even laughable, but here they feel gross, crass, and unnecessary.
The Life of Pablo is an unbelievably frustrating album for me to listen to. When it’s good, it’s really good; when it’s bad, it’s bad (but it’s a Kanye West album, so even the bad is still engaging). The beats and production on a lot of the tracks is very enjoyable, but the album is derailed by a half-finished feel, unfunny and unnecessary one-liners, and general malaise. Erratic and scatterbrained, the album is a perfect portrait of Kanye as an artist. It’s just unfortunate that it’s not a better portrait.
FAVORITE TRACKS: Ultralight Beam, Famous, Feedback (original mixing), Real Friends, No More Parties In LA
LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: Waves, FACTS, Fade