The Life of Pablo review: ‘This is album of the life’
Kanye West’s seventh studio album is his most divisive yet
Album: The Life of Pablo
Artist: Kanye West
Label: G.O.O.D. Music
Release Date: Feb. 14
Kanye West is a genius. Kanye West is an idiot.
Many people don’t realize that both of these statements can be true without contradicting one another.
It’s something Kanye West has built his career on: Contradiction.
One second he is making beautiful, critically acclaimed music; the next, he is making a fool of himself on national TV. If he’s not writing self-aware tweets about the definition of artistry, he’s tweeting to Wiz Khalifa about how he fathered Wiz’s son.
His impulsive, off-the-cuff personality has given pop culture countless iconic moments during the past decade.
From interrupting Taylor Swift’s VMA acceptance speech to his claim that George Bush hates black people, West’s name has become irreversibly associated with scandal, success and ego. Even his equally-as-famous wife, Kim Kardashian, fits seamlessly into West’s front-page personality.
His charismatic, enigmatic persona is what keeps his fans and haters so engrossed with the artist. Listening to West’s music and watching his antics, one can’t help but wonder exactly what is going on inside his head.
The Life of Pablo, West’s seventh studio album and follow-up to 2013’s brash, in-your-face Yeezus, is the closest the listener will get truly being inside Kanye West’s head.
Just like Kanye West, The Life of Pablo is perfect and atrocious all at the same time. Between singing about bleached model’s a**holes and the purity of his love for his family, its hard to differentiate between the serious and the stupid.
The album is the artist’s most overwhelming, exhaustive effort yet, in which listeners can hear West at his most genius and his most savage.
Is West truly the creative genius he claims to be?
Or is he just an egotistical megalomaniac?
The Life of Pablo is able to answer both of the questions. The album leaps everywhere it can, does as much as it can and tries as much as it can over the course of the 58 minutes and two seconds.
Genre-wise, the album can go from reggae and soul to dubstep and trap in a matter of seconds.
The album opens up with “Ultralight Beam,” a gospel-driven soul song, and closes with “Fade,” a saturated mix of rap, deep house and electronic music. From soul in the beginning, to deep house at the end, the range from open to close gives you a small glimpse of the album’s sonic expansiveness.
The Life of Pablo has so much sonic detail interlaced within that each song that it’s hard to give a complete picture while still getting every single detail.
There is a feature in which Rihanna sings over a Nina Simone sample. Chance the Rapper’s exuberance feels like a triumph by itself, you can hear the young rapper’s dream of making a song with Kanye coming true through the pure joy in his voice.
The beat on “Waves” makes the morally-questionable Chris Brown sound transcendent.
One of the songs is called “I Love Kanye,” where the rapper pokes fun at his own, overinflated, oversaturated image in pop culture.
Each new sonic twist feels surprisingly fresh without sacrificing the album’s cohesiveness.
Just like Kanye himself, The Life of Pablo feels simultaneously coherent and comical at the same time.
West may be the only artist alive who go from insulting Taylor Swift and all his exes and a reggae-themed interlude in “Famous,” to rapping about the struggle of being seen as a celebrity (“Feedback”) and comparing himself to “the ghetto Opera.”
Yet, from West questioning his own faith and faithfulness, in “FML,” to the eternally sad lyrics from being taken advantage by his own family members and not knowing who to trust (“Real Friends”), the emotional core of the album seems desperate.
It seems to epitomize the manic state of a man driven to the edge by his own fame.
The lyrical highs and lows of the album are comically disparate, but it still works.
The core of The Life of Pablo, like all West’s music, is the trademark bravado West brings into every song.
The album keeps the listener guessing at what will come next – but never alienates the listener through the constant sonic shifts.
Paradoxically, through the heavily curated and remixed song on The Life of Pablo, the listener is treated to an unadulterated view of West’s mind: all of the nonsensical drivel and the moments of brilliance mashed into one.
It is as if he takes all the elements of his previous six albums and remixed them all into one, cohesive sonic identity.
The bare-boned production of 808s & Heartbreak influenced “FML”; the spiraling electronic dissonance, so similar to Yeezus, on “Feedback”; “Ultralight Beam” manages to reference “Otis” and Late Registration, while the sonic clarity sounds like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: The album truly feels a remixed album of all West’s artistic accomplishments.
During his hailstorm of tweets promoting The Life of Pablo, West tweeted it is the “album of the life.”
Just like life’s constant up-and-downs, The Life of Pablo never lingers on one moment for long.
It attempts to show that pigeonholing West into one category is impossible. He’s not one or the other – he’s everything, all at once. He’s the arrogant, creative genius, as equally loved as hated. There’s no “old” Kanye and “new” Kanye – there is, and always will be, one Kanye.
And just one Kanye is more than enough.
Brian Windschitl is the senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.