"The Life of Pablo"
After numerous delays and name changes, the divisive Kanye West has at last released his seventh studio album, “The Life of Pablo.” It is rich in finesse and emotion, though it feels like a collection of singles and not a formal album. “The Life of Pablo” is an excellent record, but it cannot be called West’s best because its guest work is spotty, and much of the sound is messy.
Nearly every song is exciting, chock-full of energy and impressive when considered on its own. The standout of the record is the opener, “Ultralight Beam.” West actually fades to the background here, and featured artist Chance the Rapper takes over. Chance delivers a verse that is laced with arrogance and biblical imagery, preaching, “You can feel the lyrics, the spirit coming in braille.” It is impressive, but the rest of the record never quite reaches this height again. Another standout, “No More Parties in LA,” is the best pure rap track on the album and features a decent verse from Grammy Award–winner Kendrick Lamar, where he pleads to a girl, “Make me believe in miracles, Buddhist monks and Cap’n Crunch cereal.” In “Wolves,” the darkest track on the album, West speaks of depression and the dangers of fame.
Lending toward the chaos of the album is the abundance of guests. The list of guest verses and producers is full of notable names, but it’s quite long. Just to name a few, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Young Thug, André 3000, Kid Cudi, Frank Ocean and The Weeknd join West on “The Life of Pablo.” This is nothing new for West. He collaborated excessively on his opus “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” as well, but most guest verses are swiftly forgotten here. Some manage to overshadow West, as is the case with Chance the Rapper, or are forgotten as soon as they end, like Young Thug, but seldom do the guests completely gel with West as most have in the past. The guests are inconsistent in their collaborations with West and clash with the tones of the music, which is reminiscent of the whole record, where there are drastic tone shifts and mixed messages on monogamy.
“The Life of Pablo” is West’s least polished record to date. The plethora of samples and guests don’t always work together. When they do, magic that only West can create is born, but elsewhere it just is too much. “Highlights” is a behemoth of noise with brash verses about his success, but he doesn’t quite express his message clearly for the listener, which is a rare ability that West has shown in the past.
None of this is to say that “The Life of Pablo” is a waste of time or poor in any sense. Tracks like “Ultralight Beam” and “Real Friends” are superb, and the album’s themes of depression, marriage and fame are examined from various angles. Verses are memorable and have the power to both disgust and inspire. It’s just a shame that the record is not more consistent.