After months of buildup that included Twitter beefs, constantly evolving tracklists, Fashion Week previews and last second studio tinkering, The Life of Pablo, Kanye West’s seventh studio album is finally out.
After a couple of listens, it’s clear West was right when he said via Twitter TLOP wasn’t the greatest album of all time. It’s almost certainly not even the best Kanye West album of all time.
However, it is a thoroughly entertaining and interesting album. There’s a handful of songs that can go toe-to-toe with anything in the canon of Kanye, but despite the final version of the album being an 18-song behemoth, it somehow TLOP still feels kind of slight. It’s jumbled, not entirely cohesive and the whole seems to be just a little bit less than the sum of its parts should be.
Of course, this album is still quite good.
In defense of the seemingly lower stakes, it does seem being free of the thematic weight of his last two releases allowed West to be a person instead of a capital-A Artist or hedonistic, industrial God.
“Real Friends” and “Wolves” sound like genuine introspection and thoughts about the human condition, and while “I Love Kanye” is both a total goof off and the logical endpoint for West’s egomania, it’s tongue-in-cheek, actually funny and displays a self-awareness that’s always a little surprising. The First Family of E! is also all over this album. Kim, North and Saint all get plenty of mentions, and it seems like being 38 and having a growing family genuinely occupies a lot of West’s head space in a good way.
It’s not the epic scope of a show businesses orchestral tragedy, an album full of bangers or a meditation on being an English professor’s son in the Southside of Chicago, but it is interesting to get more of a glimpse into the day-to-day and mentality of a larger than life and occasionally cartoonish superstar.
As always with a Kanye release, thinking about the production choices is half the fun of a first listen. TLOP uses familiar Kanye West tools: soul samples, gospel vocals, vocal manipulation, but in a way that still seems alien to his body of work. This sounds fresh and different
Although it’s kind of an odd duck, TLOP definitely sounds like a Kanye West album. It’s tough to imagine any other artist creating what sounds like a combination of Late Registration and Yeezus–exactly as odd of a marriage as it sounds, but more functional than expected. Cold, angry industrial tones and gospel vocals share a lot of space on this album, and it makes for a really interesting moments.
It might not be a statement, but it’s a collection of solid songs with a couple classics thrown in. Nothing sucks, and despite being 18-songs long, the album doesn’t drag. It might not be West’s absolute best, but it’s among his most interesting, and I’m sure sometime in the near future, I’ll improbably be hearing a whole lot of tracks that sound like “Father Stretch My Hands” on the radio, because no one spurs popular hip-hop quite like West.