There’s a phrase often used when describing fans of the highly influential though widely detested Kanye West—we either love him or hate him. Unlike many albums that have come out recently (Deftones’ “Gore,” A$AP Ferg’s “Always Strive and Prosper,” Animal Collective’s “Painting With,” etc.), I bet that your first impression when you hear the album won’t change much on repeated listens—it’s literally, like its creator, a love-it-or-hate-it kind of album. If the review of this album from the 04.21.16 issue of the Misc leaned more towards the latter, I’d like to present an opinion expressing the former; another interpretation of the same multi-track “album,” or musical tapestry.
As a whole, I think this album is yet another one of the too-stellar releases this year that make it hard for me to rank which songs rise above its others (I also mean The 1975 and the late David Bowie). I reckon that the only lesser tracks are those that Kanye uses to help a friend get some shine, like Chris Brown on “Waves,” both Vic Mensa and Sia on “Wolves” (in its recent revert back to its original iteration from SNL a few years ago) or new G.O.O.D. Music signee Desiigner getting a replay of his own track “Panda” on Yeezy’s album, catapulting the high-schooler’s original to be the No. 1 song in the country right now. Besides these, the only “single” released so far, “Famous,” is actually the weakest offering on the whole album—in fact, it’s the only track that feels noticeably lesser (besides my opinion that “Waves” could do with another guest’s verse or some kind of bridge section). Kanye has said that he thought “Power” was the weakest lead single he ever had, and that “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” was an overappreciated album (for it was his “apology to the public”). Perhaps “Famous” as the single is intentional, being the least-spectacular song on the album—“if you don’t like this, you can at least be thankful that every other track is better!” The track features staples of a cool Kanye west tune: a Rihanna hook covering Nina Simone, Swizz Beatz (coming out of the woodwork) to hype the track up and an awesome sample flip by Kanye of Sister Nancy’s classic groove in “Bam Bam.”
I additionally wonder what reviews of this album might say had Kanye kept the album at the original only-10-song tracklist he publicized through pictures of his notepad. Surely this would have been an effective and noticeable mirror of “Yeezus”—same number of tracks, same ridiculous concentration of only 10 great tunes. Because it feels like a culmination of every album-era of Ye’s career up to this point, “The Life of Pablo” is the logical next step to its predecessor’s very overt riffing of a single style. If “Yeezus” was a focus on hard, digital beats and lyrics evoking a paparazzi-flash view of world-famous celebrity West’s life, then “The Life of Pablo” is a sonic melting pot of all of his albums, yet with these same elements from “Yeezus” also at its own core. The hilarious coital thought experiment in “Freestyle 4” or lines on “No More Parties in L.A.” are quite akin to the sexual descriptions in “I’m In It,” the samples on both “FSMH Pt. 1” and “On Sight” sharing similar lyrics, and even the soul manipulation on “Bound 2” seemed to signal the effect that Kanye uses multiple times on “Pablo,” where he takes an old sample and digitally affects it using up-to-date electronic stylings and technology.
The minute differences Kanye has made (mostly in mastering) for all the major streaming services since the album’s original Tidal-only release are not attempts to fix broken songs. They are instead a showcase for what the very near future will hold, regarding albums released on get-it-now (but never physically) streaming services. If you’re not going to spend the resources to mass-print it and sell and solidify that, say, CD as the definitive, unchangeable version of the art, why does it matter if the artist wants to keep updating it? Further, like many of Kanye’s tactics, this repeated addition to his product keeps supplying media outlets with reasons to post about Kanye West. Say what you will about him, but the man certainly knows how to keep getting you to see or hear his name (though headlines will usually try to accompany that with whatever light they believe you should see him in at that moment).
The changes prove that Kanye knows he could make a quality song a quadrillion different ways, from adding a 10-second choir backup down to a simple, single knob twist on some EQ or effect. The former change is found to add celebratory light to the lovely hook of “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” the latter maybe in “Freestyle 4,” increasing the song’s disturbing brazenness by making the interlude’s horror movie strings much more easily discernible in the mix. A similar effect can perhaps be heard in the noticeably-affected “Feedback,” where the beat’s menace is at an equal level to its original, yet with a different edge or flavor coming from its core kicks.
That silly “bleached” line on “FSMH Pt. 1”? Actually genius. Like on his much-lauded “MBDTF,” in this line he summarizes that his luxurious and lust-filled lifestyle can affect his everyday, normal self. He gets reminded of this carnality when he looks at that shirt he mentions; If he does this dirty deed, and then gets the dirtiness from that deed on his clothing that he wears around and presents to others, then he becomes what he’s using to represent himself. He feels like an asshole. That once-sexy idea that he acted on just seems gross now, an effect that occurs after plenty of sexual releases.
If this is too long a defense, I can summarize it by saying that I think more thought and careful consideration have been put into many of this album’s seemingly dumb or crass lines than the work’s detractors have described. Somehow, I don’t think there actually is any filler on this full hour of an album. After all, if you want a work of art to be more highly detailed, you’re going to have to make quite a few more brushstrokes—maybe even after the painting has already dried.