It’s been a very long road getting here, but the destination has finally been reached — sort of. After years of teasing, Kanye West’s seventh album, The Life of Pablo, has finally been released for streaming only on Tidal (I know what you’re thinking, “who?”). After the release of singles “Only One” and “All Day” in 2015, West went silent about the status of the album. It wasn’t until January of 2016 that West remembered he had an album to make, and announced the album was coming soon.
The album was released to high anticipation, but it was also really messy. Pablo went through many changes, including former album titles So Help Me God, SWISH, and Waves — all eventually left behind due to a shift of mind by Kanye. After those 2015 singles failed to garner the success of previous releases, he went on a hiatus — similar to that of Rihanna with her newly released (and equally as messy) album ANTI — only to return with what is easily his most mixed and experimental album yet.
The Life of Pablo opens with the inspirational “Ultralight Beam,” an uplifting, choir-driven song that almost plays out as a gospel track, discussing West’s faith in God. The track even goes as far as featuring vocals by pastor Kirk Franklin, clearly setting the stage for the most interesting work of West’s career. The album progresses strongly, with highlight “Famous” featuring Rihanna and a questionable lyric about the status of Taylor Swift’s fame, which I will appropriately neglect.
Kanye placed his focus on the lyricism with this record, something not seen on his 2013 release, Yeezus. The production on Pablo is minimal, with songs such as “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and “Waves” often containing only a simple synth and kick beat. The messages are clear and filled with one liners, making it an easily quotable album.
However, the album’s simplicity is one of its only positive aspects. Pablo plays out like word vomit for Kanye, with songs often sounding like random parts thrown together just to create noise. Songs such as “Feedback” and “Freestyle 4” are aggressive and highly self-indulgent, though this is Kanye we’re talking about, so it is to be expected.
Another issue that plagues Pablo is the inconsistency of sound. While one track is an uplifting gospel, the next is a pulsing testimony of Kanye’s power. After such a long wait, to have an album as mixed as Pablo is discouraging, especially coming from the man who created My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Many would argue that the mess surrounding the creation of this record is what makes it so special in Kanye’s discography. For someone who takes his art so seriously, Kanye’s The Life of Pablo plays to me as inconsistent and ultimately disappointing. The sound is minimal, and where the record should make up for the lack of his usual avant garde productions is where the problem lies. Kanye has made his living from creating strong and cohesive albums, and if this record is anything to go by, then maybe it’s his life he should be focusing on, not Pablo’s.
2 out of 5 stars.
— Jake Johnson, Music Blogger