Sena Adjei | Staff Writer
After months of desperate anticipation, Kanye West’s newest studio LP has finally arrived, with its newest and final title in tow. To put it bluntly, “The Life of Pablo” is every bit as polarizing, propulsive, and magnificent a piece of music as his fans had hoped; but not consistently in the ways they had most hoped for.
“Pablo” is a cornucopia of Kanye West in all of his past iterations, as well as a few that listeners have not been exposed to yet. Running at 58 minutes, the album often feels like a schizophrenic episode, stacking themes and impressions one after another and veering between these ideas seemingly at random. Whether it be his fierce commitment to his family or his experiences grappling with depression, the record touches on each of these images so briefly and so opaquely from track to track that the listener isn’t given a chance to digest them before they’re flash-bulbed to the next.
On tracks such as “Ultra Light Beam,” West’s signature brand of grandiosity and maximalist style is wholly embraced, with a choral overture being fervently driven forward by the swells of beautifully layered organ distortion. West’s singing as well as a rapped verse by Chance The Rapper both contrast the track’s musical backdrop in a way that feels distinctive without being detractive. Moments like these exist in the following tracks but aren’t quite as complicit in their tone or lyrical substance. This can be seen in songs like “Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1,” as well as “Highlights” — the production is similarly invigorating and warm, but is quickly eclipsed by West’s very much tongue-in-cheek verses about “bleached a**holes,” and his wealth as compared to his wife’s previous partners. Though these lyrics usually land correctly and offer a welcome moment of comedic relief, too often they feel inappropriate or intrusive, and leave the record and listener feeling oddly vexed.
One of the redeeming qualities of the project though, is its Avengers-esque lineup of collaborators, and the ways in which they’re utilized throughout. The list includes artists such as The-Dream, André 3000, Young Thug, Ty Dolla $ign, The Weeknd, and the infamous non-entity Frank Ocean to name a few; though each of their presences is palpably felt in their appearances, none of them overly dominate their respective tracks.
West even manages to coax out a reasonably praiseworthy performance from Chris Brown, who, in his feature on the bombastic and auto-tune laden “Waves” is without a doubt an old dog doing the same timeworn, foreseeable trick, but doing it with newfound zeal. Frank Ocean and The Weeknd’s appearances on the tracks “Wolves” and “FML” also add a great deal to the texture of the album. These tracks are two of the only definitively low points of the record sonically. The dissonance in both West and Caroline Shaw’s vocal performances on the track, coupled with the surprise emergence of a low-fi mini-ballad by Ocean work together to create an impact that strangely enough feels increasingly intimate with every additional listen.
The previously released singles “No More Parties In L.A.” as well as “Real Friends” remain just as fun and reminiscent of Late-Registration-era Kanye, but this sort of intensity and hunger is all but absent in West’s lyrical performance virtually everywhere else on the LP. Many were anticipating this record being in the same vein as these two singles as far as their sound, and West finally addresses the whining, nostalgic fans who have begrudgingly decried each of his releases after “Graduation.” He does so by appropriating their universal rallying call of, “I miss the old Kanye” and reformatting it into an admittedly hilarious and self-mocking forty-four second interlude.
The re-hashing and blending of so many musical and conceptual elements gives “Pablo” thrill, but the lack of any recognizable continuity and purpose throughout the project ultimately holds it back. Kanye West has never been a proponent of perfection, though. Instead, “The Life Of Pablo” is alive.