Kanye West dropped his new album, “The Life of Pablo,” this week, and it’s finally available for streaming on Tidal (you can get a one month free trial of Tidal just by downloading the app).The album had as much hype as any in recent memory, fueled mostly by Kanye’s own Twitter rants. West even proclaimed in a meltdown backstage at SNL before this week’s release that he is “50 percent more inspirational than the apostle Paul.” Kanye sets the bar high for himself, and I, therefore, expected “The Life of Pablo” to be something innovative and awe-inspiring. Without further ado, here is my review of “The Life of Pablo” by Kanye West.
1. “Ultra Light Beams”—This is the best song on the album, in my opinion. When I first listened to it, I thought that maybe this was actually a gospel album, as West joked on Twitter before the release. This song has an uplifting gospel background sound, with a featured verse from Chance the Rapper that steals the show.
2. “Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1” (Featuring Kid Cudi and produced by Metro Boomin) —This song is mostly chorus and an auto-tuned West talking about having a fling with a model. Skip.
3. “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2” — West claimed on Twitter that he cried writing this song, an homage to his father. The song starts with West rapping about his father and his family, but seems oddly frantic, and the heartfelt love that West purported to put into the lyrics seems to get lost in delivery. It seems like these lyrics would be better served had they been sung over a more melodic beat.
4. “Famous” — Possibly the most talked-about song; West boldly claims that he made Taylor Swift famous. The rapping is good, and the song itself is catchy, with a lovely refrain from Rihanna. Overall, one of the best songs on the album.
5. “Feedback” — “Name one genius that ain’t crazy” seems to sum up West’s opinion of himself. Kanye includes the line “hands up, hands up, then the cops shot us.” The foray into political activism was surprising, mostly because the line was such a one-off, with no other mentions of the kind on the entire album.
6. “Low Lights” — Extended gospel intro; basically a testimonial for the power of faith.
7. “High Lights” — Contrasting sharply with low lights, West goes back to the profane and inane. West seems to revel in his irreverence and specifically calls out Ray J. The album bounces around quite a bit, and I was thrown off by this point. Kanye moves quickly between the Godly and the profane, and if you aren’t paying close attention for a few seconds you can end up left behind.
8. “Freestyle 4″—Kanye aggressively muses about his true wishes at a dinner party. The rapping is average and he seems to be enjoying being inflammatory more than actually putting together any good verses.
9. “I love Kanye” — 45-second contrived Kanye rant. Skip.
10. “Waves” — Back to the uplifting gospel undertones; Chris Brown sings a cool chorus, and the whole song works well. Fun to listen to and well-produced.
11. “FML”—Huge shift of tone. It has an expansive and ominous beat over which Kanye suddenly becomes reflective and remorseful. The Weeknd sings the chorus and provides the perfect somber accompaniment. This is the self-reflective Kanye, drawing on the pain of past experiences to make beautiful music, reminiscent of his previous album, “808s and Heartbreak.”
12. “Real Friends” — Continues the melancholy self reflection, as Kanye gives a glimpse of real emotion (“When was the last time I remembered a birthday?/ When was the last time I wasn’t in a hurry?”). Kanye seems to lament the life of fame and excess that he lives and understand what he is giving up in his personal life in order to maintain it. This simple beat and deep level of self reflection makes for a genuine tone.
13. “Wolves” — This song is really cool. The background vocals are ethereal and spooky, and West’s tone is spot on. The rapping is restrained and pithy, and West puts together an engaging metaphor on what it would be like for Mary to meet Joseph in modern settings. Kanye’s singing at the end is genuinely beautiful as well.
14. “Silver Surfer Intermission” — Voicemail ripped directly from Kanye’s phone? Skip.
15. “30 Hours” — “My ex said she gave me the best years of her life./ I saw a recent picture of her, I guess she was right” (insert fire emoji here). Some of the best rapping on the entire album on the front-end, but it turns into an unnecessary six-minute shout-out/bonus track.
16. “No More Parties in LA” — The biggest surprise of the entire album for me was that Kanye’s verse on this song was actually better than Kendrick’s. Kendrick’s verse is good, but Kanye’s near three-minute verse is probably his best on the entire album. Even with the gratuitous E! Network shout-out toward the end.
17. “Facts” — Eh. Mostly a diss track to Nike to promote his shoes. Weird tone shift again.
18. “Fade” — Cool beat with no actual bars rapped over it. Kind of an anti-climactic finish after backloading most of the best rapping on the album.
My grade: B-
Frankly, this album disappointed me. I found the excessive tone shifts from song to song grating, and I had a hard time getting into the flow of the music. I appreciate that Kanye can make music for the best and worst days, but going back and forth between those extremes multiple times throughout the tracklist was jarring. I had a hard time understanding the album as a piece of art with an overarching story, and I think that West gave a lot of gratuitous advertisement, Kardashian references,and profanity, just for the sake of his “crazy genius” reputation. In addition, the wide variety of features and interludes became distracting at a point. One of the features, Chance the Rapper, arguably outshines West on the very first song of the album. The songs that hit home with me had a more restrained feeling and did away with the unnecessary pretense. In my opinion, Kanye is incredibly talented, and there are good songs here, but the album as a whole is too disjointed and distracting to be enjoyable as a complete product.
My recommendation: Download Tidal and get your free one month trial if you haven’t already, and give “The Life of Pablo” a listen for yourself. Don’t miss Ultralight Beams, Famous, FML and Wolves.