By Serena Johnson | The Duquesne Duke
Just when you thought you’d never hear a gospel album about nasty sex at a Vogue party, Kanye West gives us “The Life of Pablo,” an alleged “masterpiece” intermixed in both its mess and mystery.
Love it or absolutely hate it, “Pablo” transfixes you like a train wreck – you’re cringing, you’re concerned but you’re listening. Yeezy’s no stranger to this motif; while his skillset certainly incited his notoriety, he’s managed to make a career out of shamelessly challenging the status quo to prove itself for a Man vs. Society brawl.
His lyricism as of late has infamously shaken listeners to their cores with all of the brutal honesty and self-obsession he serves the public without a care in the world. But while some tracks miss the mark, there’s no doubt that by the end of the album, we’re reminded of one very important thing: Kanye West doesn’t care about your comfort. And sometimes that’s pretty dope.
Initially, the album seems rather disorganized due to the shifts in instrumental intensity and countless vocal appearances, but it’s clearly much more than a mixed bag of noises. “Pablo” is a journey through West’s seemingly schizophrenic psyche. When thought of as more of a stream-of-consciousness piece rather than a disaster, even the track listing alone has a lot of artful intention in exploring the artist’s many faces.
We’re all used to the narcissistic genius that pats himself on the back and romances thick bombshells, but we’re reintroduced to the other sides of West that we’ve probably forgotten – Spiritual Kanye (“Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and “Lowlights”), Lonely Kanye (“Real Friends”), and now Family Man Kanye (“Wolves” and “FML”) – but that isn’t to say we don’t definitely get a bitter taste of the in-your-face gusto that, surprisingly, most can’t get enough of.
“No Parties in L.A.” is the best track on the album by a long shot. With rapid-fire stanzas and an excellent verse from Kendrick Lamar, it’s the track that the entire album should’ve sounded like and probably what fans wanted to hear.
There are still a few more honorable mentions, though. “Freestyle 4” gives us two minutes of audacious filth complemented by an elegant string sample from Goldfapp’s “Human;” “30 Hours” is impressively cutthroat (“My ex says she gave me the best years of her life / I saw a recent picture of her, I guess she was right.”) And the final track that particularly shines would have to be “Facts (Charlie Heat Version)”, a Yeezy-fied form of Drake and Future’s “Jumpman” complete with the familiar flow and repetition but enhanced by an entirely better sound.
Oh, and if you want a good laugh, check out “I Love Kanye,” a lighthearted acapella ode to the meme surrounding the notion of West’s self-adoration. It’s obviously not supposed to be taken too seriously, but it’s cute.
Now, the downside of all of this is that if one were to hear the aforementioned tracks on their own as singles, there’d definitely be some disappointment in the rest of the album. “Ultralight Beam,” the record’s initial track, is certainly a delight for music aficionados, but could easily be read as an “acquired taste” in regards to the general public.
Speaking of appeasing the masses, though, while devout fans might be a little let down, “Real Friends,” a largely relatable ballad with a haunting outro and “Frank’s Track” are artistically weak, but definitely crowd pleasers.
“Wolves” isn’t necessarily bad – at times it’s even quite good – though it’s sure to unnerve even the uneasily offended as it’s always a decent idea to avoid comparing oneself and one’s wife to Mary and Joseph, but the man released an album dubbed “Yeezus,” so let that sink in before any harsh judgments are made.
And for listeners looking for the blatant social commentary Kanye’s provided in his previous works, this album isn’t going to be a winner. There’s definitely some controversial content in “Feedback” with overt references to police violence against minorities and West goes right for the jugular in typical Kanye fashion, but it essentially begins and ends there.
The bad apples could potentially ruin the bunch, though. “Famous” is a good turn-up track but will definitely leave preteens that really like horses forming a vicious mob outside of the rapper’s home (Note to Kanye: Beware of pitchforks and teardrops on guitars.) Songs like “Waves” and “FML” are just downright boring.
This isn’t his best album. Point, blank, period. But above all, Kanye West is an entertainer and accompanied by a star-studded list of vocalists and songwriters; At the very least, listeners will be thoroughly entertained.