KANYE WEST – The Life of Pablo (Def Jam/G.O.O.D. Music): I swear that at some point in this review I’ll talk about the music and lyrics, but bear with me. Just so we’re on the same page, no—I don’t know exactly which version of The Life of Pablo I’ve been listening to. And because finding information on the various incarnations this “living breathing changing creative expression” has surfaced as is surprisingly tricky since the nature of the workovers is relatively skimpy, I’m not inclined to hunt down the versions and tracks I don’t have and offer a definitive recommendation out of the different options. All I (and you) can hope for is that Kanye slips up at some point and allows a physical release that’s singular and not a crapshoot. And unless he decides that that version should undergo revisions so major that we can all agree it’s a completely different album rather than the Ship of Theseus process he’s playing with now, trust that my word on this is about as good as anyone else’s: it really doesn’t matter which version you have. I mean, sure, I’d rather have the mix of “Wolves” that doesn’t feature Sia’s godawful performance, but you know what? “Wolves” isn’t one of my favorite tracks anyway, so who gives a shit?
Plenty of others have discussed ad nauseam just what it means for an album to never be quite finished, so I don’t see any reason for me to jump full-on into the philosophical debate surrounding the idea of constantly tinkering with a piece of art over time, not that I could offer any new insight anyway. I know people have already brought up George Lucas’s alterations to Star Wars, but that analogy barely holds. Lucas only directed the first one and essentially got lucky that he shot enough footage for his editors to salvage. The film was collaborative in a way The Life of Pablo is not.
What it is is probably the closest I’ve ever come to being convinced that West is legitimately crazy—or, really, eccentric to the point of insanity. For an album that’s meant to evolve, it’s surprisingly unfocused. After a dozen listens or so, I can’t discern any readymade theme or metaphor stringing these overly-produced beauts together. What does it for me, really, is Kanye’s inability to not be himself. He bumrushed Taylor Swift onstage at the VMAs only to namedrop her here years later as a potential sex partner and recorded the phone conversation receiving her blessing for the lyrics-in-question so that he could expose her as a two-faced prima donna should she feign outrage and did so when she did. He flaunts his wealth the way an infant does its genitalia once discovered, unapologetic and understandably so. So fixated on his Christ personality crisis is he that beyond calling his previous studio album Yeezus, he’s convinced himself and in turn tries to convince you that his relationship with Kim Kardashian is worthy of comparison to Mary and Joseph’s before Jesus came along. He’s spent a good deal of his adult life helping others financially and professionally that he can’t help but being paranoid that the world’s out to get him, especially when his own “dirty motherfucker” cousin swiped his laptop and wouldn’t turn it over for less than $250k.
Point is, Kanye’s just so honest—honest in the sense that he can’t hide who he is, even when he wants to. And the album, jumping from the synth-gospel proclamation “I’m tryna keep my faith” on “Ultralight Beam” to the simple spoken-word self-worship/self-reflection of “I Love Kanye,” from pondering how many “Real Friends” someone in a position like him could really ever have to admitting he probably wouldn’t be able to recognize every chick he’s ever dicked, is just a fine set of songs. It’s not world-changing, it’s not likely to inspire a new generation of rappers. It’s most likely to be enjoyed by boobs like us, trying to makes sense of the wonderfully wacky world that is Kanye West, whichever version he happens to be. A MINUS
Kanye West – Yeezus (Def Jam ’13): B PLUS (***)
Kanye West Presents G.O.O.D. Music Cruel Summer (Def Jam/G.O.O.D. Music ’12): B PLUS (***)
Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne (Def Jam/Roc-a-Fella ’11): A MINUS