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Review: Kanye West — The Life of Pablo

★★★☆☆

The album is called The Life of Pablo , but is Kanye playing Picasso or Escobar? Genius or tyrant? Misogynist or..?

That line on ‘Famous’ has cast a shadow over this album’s release. Kanye’s claim that he might have sex with Taylor Swift because he “made her famous” is moot considering he interrupted her onstage as she picked up an award for an album seven times platinum, and it detracts from the true strength, here, which is the production. The end of ‘Famous’ itself sounds really, really fresh, reminiscent of J.Dilla’s sound yet with Aphex Twin’s sense of adventure. Opener ‘Ultra Light Beams’ is straight out of the Drake-40 collaboration book, whilst Chance the Rapper’s feature suits the understated production (a rarity on TLOP) down to a tee.

There are some lovely melodies and beats, and even some strong verses, here but they don’t get much chance to breathe as Kanye chops and changes throughout. This album would be stronger with another half an hour added to let the listener become familiar with all the disparate strains of influence. It’s a generally accepted fact that Kanye is at his best when he is outspoken yet introspective, but whilst he manages the former on the underwhelming ‘Facts’, it’s the more sober ‘FML’ and ‘Real Friends’ on which Kanye finally lets down the façade, and we understand why Kanye has done everything he has both on this album and in real life. The beat is allowed time to develop and we are allowed a glimpse of the truth through the clouds of ego and media hype.

Too often, TLOP seems like the stream-of consciousness creation of someone with an attention span of only half a minute. Metro Boomin’ production means ‘Father Stretch My Hands Part One’ starts on a more nominally ‘hip-hop’ beat, but the track shifts into Part Two before we get a chance to even really appreciate what’s going on. As a result, the second half, about which Kanye said he “cried while writing”, is disjointed and lacks emotional punch. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy had both twists and fantasies, but that album was like a journey that took the listener through numerous disparate landscapes while still offering a discernible path from one track to the next. Not so here. People who thought Yeezus was too bitty will not like this. I can’t help but think that here he has fallen behind Kendrick Lamar and To Pimp a Butterfly in terms of making the progressive albums both aim for.

There are moments of real aestheticism; if Kanye took a step back and allowed the music to breathe he could have made a moving album, whether beautiful or ugly.

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