“The Life of Pablo” has gone through quite the ordeal to be released. First it was called “So Help Me God” (with an apparent single “All Day”), then “Swish,” and then “Waves” for a little bit before being retitled to the title we have now. Along with this last-minute name changing, we also had some last-minute revisions. The supposed due date for the album was pushed back a week as Kanye and co. added track after track, and changed the tracks that were already there.
So why am I reviewing an album that came out last month for an issue in the middle of April? Well the album is actually on Spotify now and this new release is also a “different” version. Kanye supposedly “fixed” some songs and added some changes to this album. Do these changes actually change anything? A most resounding “no” is the answer.
If you’ve ever gotten to that point when you’re writing a paper where you’re not really changing anything, but you still call it revising, you’re basically doing what Kanye did with this re-release. Sure, you’re adding a comma there, rearranging some sentences, maybe using some more colorful adjectives, but for the most part, the paper is the same. That’s exactly what happened with these changes.
The bad songs are still bad, the good songs are still good. Kanye added some backing vocals and rearranged some beats like on “Feedback.” One change that I will give Kanye some credit on is actually mastering the album. All of the songs this time sound very intentional and less all-over-the-place. Like on the old version of the song “Highlights,” you couldn’t hear Young Thug’s vocals over the base, it was all out of whack. But now you actually hear both parts of the song. The problem is that it’s not really worth the listen.
That’s my biggest complaint with this album: the bad outweighs the good. I’m especially repulsed with the stretch of songs from “Low Lights” (which is a vocal interlude) to “Waves” (which is a Chris Brown track with a Kanye West feature). It’s like Kanye needed more tracks to complete the album and just threw together as many mediocre songs as he could in the last five minutes (this might not be too far from the truth with all of those last-minute album changes).
But those bad tracks are simple to deal with; it’s called the skip button and you will be using it if you listen to this album in one sitting. (The “Low Lights” interlude brings nothing of value and the “Silver Surfer Intermission” is borderline unintelligible.) What leaves the worst taste in my mouth are the moments on the album that are almost good, but there’s just something so off or trashy about them that ruins whatever merit they had.
The track “Father Stretch my Hands pt. 1” is a good example of what I’m talking about. The song begins with a great tone-shifted vocal sample leading into a fantastic hook that I still find myself humming months after my first listen. But then Kanye starts rapping.
The first line involving bleach, assholes and stained t-shirts is so crass and vulgar that it derails the song for me. Sure, vulgar lyrics have their place. Yeezus used vulgarity pretty well; it went with the violent tone of the album (or the vulgar lyrics on the sinister sounding “Freestyle 4”). On this song however, the indecency simply doesn’t work with this whole self-proclaimed “gospel” theme that Kanye set up with the opener and Kid Cudi’s gorgeous hook. To make matters worse, Kanye’s line isn’t funny, isn’t clever; it’s just plain stupid and would only make the album better if it weren’t on the song.
I wish I could say that this was just on one song, but it isn’t. This low-brow type of vulgarity is present throughout the album. Combine this with some of the just-plain-bad lines (a laughably bad sandwich metaphor on “Wolves”), and you have a recipe for an enjoyment-derailing experience.
I don’t want to be overly negative so I do have to mention the truly great moments/tracks off this album. The album opener “Ultralight Beam” is an excellent example of what Kanye might have meant when he said that “The Life of Pablo” would be a “gospel” album. “Feedback” is the Yeezus-sound done to perfection. “FML” is a track that has grown on me over time, but this subtle, slow and understated song shows that Kanye can still make music that sounds completely fresh and unique. “Real Friends” is also an amazing reprise on the soulful sound that Kanye burst onto the scene with on his album “College Dropout.”
“Wolves” is one track that was changed drastically with this album, adding verses from Vic Mensa and Sia. I feel like the changes didn’t help this song. Vic Mensa and Sia make the song feel bloated, and the one thing that should have been changed (Kanye’s lyrics) were unfortunately left untouched.
Kanye was going for the sequel to his track “Blood on the Leaves” on this “Wolves” with the first part of the song being mostly autotuned singing culminating in a rap verse from Kanye. But with “Blood on the Leaves” Kanye’s verse was actually good (the beat is also dope), but on “Wolves” Kanye rhymes “unfollow” with “unswallow” three times in a row and then goes on to compare himself and Kim Kardashian to Mary and Joseph (from the Bible). It’s tacky and just plain bad compared to Kanye’s other lyrics.
But after that, the album finishes somewhat strong. “30 Hours” is good for the first half when Kanye is actually rapping. “No More Parties in L.A.” starts off strong, but Kanye’s verse is way too long and monotonous. “Facts” has a great beat, and “Fade” sounds almost house-inspired with its repeating baseline over spacious vocals.
So if I had to recommend this album, I’d only recommend the noteworthy songs. As a whole, this album is disappointing. It is filled with filler tracks that you won’t remember minutes after listening to them. Or worse, the songs that you will remember because of something stupid/gross. There are bright spots on this album; it’s just a shame that they aren’t bright enough to shine through the muck and detritus of this album.