WilcoIn a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “I liked it a whole lot of it, I just feel like I may have liked it more if Pablo was given a chance to speak for itself, instead of coming loaded with all the baggage of its lead up.”
The music industry is more diverse and fluid these days than ever before. Such easy access for the consumer means artists have to find new and different ways to stand out from the crowd. I read one band say that in the old days, you toured to spread awareness of a new record, then make your money by shifting those units. Now, you release a record so you have a reason to tour and live off those ticket sales.
Last year, Foo Fighters hyped the release of Sonic Highways by making an entire HBO series to go along with it. While on the other end of the spectrum, megastars like Beyonce drop albums out of the blue. Wilco did the same, one upping it by surprise releasing an album, and giving it away for free. I know they weren’t the first to do it, but they were first band I liked who did it. But I can’t think of anything that comes close to the calculated marketing genius, or massive cluster fuck fluke (it’s a coin toss which is true), that was the lead up to Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo.
Twitter tantrums, constant title changes and a mad dash to the finish line, culminating in a bloke playing music out of his laptop for a sold out crowd at Madison Square Garden meant the record was already infamous before the general public heard a single note. It’s been weeks since all of that went down, and it still filled my mind as I finally got ready or my first listen. So going in, my main question was, can The Life of Pablo stand above its own hype and release insanity?
First off, I am no Kanye West aficionado. Before today, I had listened to a grand total of one of his albums top to bottom. His debut, College Dropout, of which I wrote, “Considering the tabloid view I have of West, the biggest surprise… is its humility and positivity… so much of this album is about recognising and facing insecurities.” Just a quick glance at his Twitter feed shows that he has definitely moved on since then.
No amount of passion is enough for Kanye to carry the gospel pretentions of Ultralight Beam by himself, but every time the pros join in to back him up, the song lives up to its potential, disjointed and angular in a really interesting way. Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 is the first time I hear the over thinking and relentless tinkering that went into The Life of Pablo right up until the last minute. It’s a really cool song with some great flow, that gets a little lost under all of the studio over cooking. What does West think the constant auto tune adds to it?
The hype around Famous since the record’s release has been all about the Taylor Swift reference in its first lines. But once you get past that patch of insecure misogyny, it turns into a really cool track, with a great hook. Take away that unfortunate intro, and this would be an undeniably awesome song.
Just when I started to think everything was getting a little samey, Highlights delivers a combination of retro synth bass grooves, vintage finger clicks and an auto tuned hook (used for a reason this time) for an end result like nothing I’ve ever heard before. And I like it. Which is the opposite reaction I had to the pointless Freestyle 4. Not every word you commit to tape needs to be released for mass consumption, Kanye. Whereas Love Kanye sounds just as tossed off, but it has a sense of humour behind it that makes it feel like there’s a human being behind the outlandish public persona.
The spooky threat to the sound of Real Friends, combined with West’s story of the isolation that comes with fame and fortune, is a bit much. It’s nothing new for the rich and famous to complain about this stuff, just like it’s nothing new for it so sound whingey to regular folk. But things really pick up a couple of tracks later with 30 Hours. That is, they pick up as long as West sticks to rapping. That’s when he justifies what so many people say about his skills (and almost justifies what he himself says about his skills). But whenever he tries sing, things start to come undone.
Saving the best until almost last, No More Parties in LA, might be the only song on The Life of Pablo that sounds like it could be played at a party. Because I’ve been on the Kendrick Lamar bandwagon since about this time last year, the chances of me liking this song most were always pretty good. It’s the only song released before the album that I actually listened to in the lead up, purely based on Lamar’s inclusion. And here we are, a month or two later, the entire album is here, and I still find No More Parties in LA to be the most exciting thing about it.
I’m a firm believer that when it comes to art, it should only be judged based on the finished product. I don’t give a crap how hard it was to make The Revenant, or the extreme shit Leo put himself through filming it. What I give a crap about is, is the actual movie entertaining and worth two plus hours of my time? The same goes for music. But with The Life of Pablo, I feel like Kanye West made it impossible to separate the finished product from the bullshit that preceded it. Bullshit he so effectively created. I liked it a whole lot of it, I just feel like I may have liked it more if Pablo was given a chance to speak for itself, instead of coming loaded with all the baggage of its lead up.