Weekly "Paul's Picks" album review
By Paul Jacobson | Echo
I’d like to get one thing out of the way; everything about this album is a trainwreck. And 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 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.” The 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. For me, it’s that this album sounds like a man who is losing his mind. Kanye’s played paranoid before (much 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 a sample of the incredibly eerie strings from Goldfrapp’s “Human,” and Kanye rapping in short, choppy sentences. The drums and record scratch give a feeling of unintentional nervous twitches and ticks. As the track goes on, Kanye descends deeper and deeper into madness.
There’s a huge disparity in the quality of the tracks, too. Around half feel half-baked; few are fully polished. “Real Friends” and “No More Parties in LA” shine brighter on the album than they did as singles, simply because the quality of the other tracks pale in comparison. Opener “Ultra Light Beam” sets the bar high for the rest of the tracks, 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 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 raps about this betrayal, showing emotion we haven’t seen much since “808’s & Heartbreak.”However, the one-liners are among his worst, with just about every song 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 really bad (but it’s a Kanye West album, so even the bad is still engaging). Despite quality beats and production on a lot of the tracks, 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, Real Friends, No More Parties In LA
LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: FACTS, Fade