Kanye West: The Life of Pablo (G.O.O.D./Def Jam) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Kanye West

The Life of Pablo

G.O.O.D./Def Jam

Apr 06, 2016 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Who exactly is Kanye West in 2016? Is he the envelope-pushing, genre-defining producer and artist who reshaped hip-hop (including 2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which I still believe to be the best album of the decade so far)? Alternatively, is he the haughty, rant-prone celebrity husband more widely known for his temper than his talent? This dichotomy sits firmly at the heart of The Life of Pablo, but the creaking structural integrity of the record never fully allows the argument to come to any conclusion. The artistic statement behind the record may illustrate the challenge between maintaining two personas, but the problem is that too much of the music here is unfocused and scattered, needing judicious editing or a tighter quality filter in order to justify its own hype.

When it is good, it is outstanding. The opening "Ultralight Beam" is a stunning gospel choir plea to God and spirituality, complete with a wonderful Chance the Rapper guest vocal. Take the infamous Taylor Swift line and a couple of crude digs at exes away, and "Famous" is a brilliantly chiselled chunk of rhythm and melody. In addition, "No More Parties in LA" swings and spins around a skeletal fragment of Junie Morrison's "Suzy Thundertussy," cracking the lid open on the dark, sordid underbelly of the city. Possibly best of all is "I Love Kanye," a track in which West wonderfully and hilariously skews himself with a witty and insightful self-deprecation that has been sorely missing from his recent work.

The problem is that these tracks are separated by vast swathes of fragmented and under-explored songs that baffle more than inform. "Wolves" sounds frustratingly incomplete, while "Highlights" and "FML" singularly fail to show off the talents of The Weeknd and Young Thug respectively. "Real Friends" is toothless, menace-less menace, and "30 Hours" goes from taut-yet-cruel jibes to almost entirely falling apart at the end. The ultimate feel of the record is more like a mixtape than a completed album, and while the former would be interesting and welcome, as the latter The Life of Pablo is a crushing disappointment. Though similarly unfocused at times, Yeezus at least had the balls to challenge you head-on with its aural assault, and on previous Kanye records, there was a cohesion and a strategy behind the tracks that largely overpowered any accusations of misogyny. Without such cohesion, the record falls back too often into cheap digs and scruffy verses. There is plenty here to suggest that West's magic has not entirely left him, but as a statement of art or true intent, this is a significant misstep from an artist with so much to praise. We are still unclear as to who the real Kanye is, and the suspicion is that the man himselfdeep downis similarly torn. Here, in the awkward incompleteness of The Life of Pablo, it most certainly shows. (www.kanyewest.com)

Author rating: 5.5/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10


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