It seems like it’s impossible to browse the Internet without reading something new about Kanye West. Whether it’s about Kanye’s reluctance to release his music for normal sale, the extent to which he’s a Cosby apologist, his extravagant Madison Square Garden show driven by tunes pumped through a simple aux cord or pleas for billionaires to drop their current philanthropic projects in order to fund his creative muses, nearly every website, news outlet and social media platform is scrambling to get a piece of the Kanye pie. (Clearly The Sun is no exception.) In this shitstorm of hype and speculation, it’s easy to forget that the at the hurricane’s eye is a landmark album, The Life of Pablo.
Naturally, The Life of Pablo was quite divisive, with it being alternately hailed as another revolutionary record from Mr. West and decried as a self-absorbed, misogynist debacle. Realistically, it’s both of these things and everything in between. None of the infinity minus one thinkpieces or reviews could accurately capture the album, its release or its artist in all their complex glory. Between dissection for its religious significance by outlets as unpredictable as the Christian Post and a multi-thousand-word comparison to Springsteen, there has been more Kanye content this month than any human could possibly be expected to read.
To provide some guidance to your written TLOP reactions, I’ve undergone the totally self-indulgent task of reviewing and analyzing a tiny fraction of its reviews. Rejoice — I’m out-curmudgeoning the curmudgeons so you don’t have to.
Of course I’m going to start with Pitchfork, the punchline publication that everyone loves to hate without ever reading because it makes the mistake of publishing oddly specific numbers next to the album title.
In a review as lofty as Kanye’s self-termed gospel album itself (as evidenced by fellow Sun writer Shay Collins’ ’18 Buzzfeed quiz), Jayson Greene comes out of the gate swinging with the justified point that’s clearly getting lost among those who consider themselves pop culture cognoscenti. “The Life of Pablo is … the first Kanye West album that’s just an album: No major statements, no reinventions, no zeitgeist wheelie-popping,” Greene writes. Kanye’s career thus far has been characterized by studio albums that have redefined hip-hop, whether entirely positively (College Dropout) or in a more questionable direction (808s & Heartbreak).
Greene takes the apparent slap-dash inconsistencies not as imperfections, but rather as self-awareness. He gets that the album should be taken on its own — not extracted from its release cycle, but still somewhat separate from the rest of Kanye’s career. I refuse to believe, though, that the bulk of the imperfections weren’t the result of Mr. West pouring his heart out in the naturally imperfect way humans do.
Even in praising the record’s humanity — which is where TLOP undoubtedly shines — Greene continues to fall short. He notes that “tuning into the humanity” becomes tough when confronted by the album’s “assholery.” This neglects that the assholery is part of Kanye’s humanity — it has been and it continues to be. Removing the short-sighted braggadocio from a Kanye record wouldn’t make it more human because that’s not who Kanye is. Only in Kanye’s universe could a “gospel” album both reignite his Taylor Swift beef and make me definitively say “Kanye hates women” in one fell swoop; if that’s not (deeply flawed) humanity, I don’t know what is.
Jon Caramanica hits the main positives of the album square on the head: that “Ultralight Beam” is a singularly incredible track, that much of Kanye’s talent is channeling his skilled collaborators and, most importantly, that The Life of Pablo is relentlessly self-aware even in its most jarring moments.
Caramanica is right to call the Taylor Swift jab on “Famous” “both tacky and hilarious.” I firmly believe that Kanye knows how absurd many of his lines are (see: a model’s bleached asshole) and they make the record as great as it is. Where Yeezus thrives in its unbridled (but not unfocused) anger, TLOP is defined by the intimate peek it gives into Kanye the person. Like the album itself, he’s uneven, imperfect, enigmatic and affable as all hell. He’s also funny — humor doesn’t take anything away from the album’s ability to be read as art.
Petridis’ main complaint centers on TLOP being “confused and scattered.” It’s scattered, sure, but I don’t buy confused. To assume that Kanye didn’t properly address its lack of central focus — or even to claim that the record’s lack of a unifying sound is due to over-revision — is to miss the artistry of the record’s many facets. Again, Pablo shines in its exploration of many ideas, genres, influences and collaborators.
Also, Petridis didn’t need three and a half paragraphs to actually start discussing the album itself. While Kanye’s antics are part of the Life of Pablo narrative, they don’t define the record’s music, which should be allowed to speak for itself.
Nobody should have expected Grumpthony Pessimistano to like this record. He has it out for Kanye. I’m sure he genuinely doesn’t love Kanye, but he also knows that picking a massively well-liked record for a 15 minute takedown will get him talked about — and there’s nothing wrong with that. I respect the hustle and don’t want to discount anything he’s saying.
Except his miscategorization of Yeezus’ tone as “shallow appeals to an alternative sound.” And how he discounts TLOP’s displays of humanity as corny and derivative. And how he basically shot down all of my ideas about this record by calling people with my point of view “Kanye stans” who don’t appreciate how tired the concept of an intentionally messy album is. And how he gave the record a fucking light to decent six. And how he had to invoke Death Grips’ The Powers That B when discussing a time he was fucked with by an artist’s release but actually appreciated the end product.
Y’know what, Anthony? You’re a Death Grips stan. They’re great but they’ve been messy for the sake of being messy too. I hate the new Fantano, the bad mood Fantano.
Whew, I’m out of breath.
Mike Sosnick is the Arts and Entertainment Editor. He can be reached at [email protected] 40 Percent Papier Mâché appears alternate Thursdays this semester.