I have repeated the following basic concept in a variety of musical circles, and I typically stand by it. If Hitler released a great album, I would listen to it. The basic presumption is that the music is separate from the artist. And though a great artist (as a person) can elevate the music, and a bad artist can diminish the music, it’s really marginal- at least it should be.
But, we are humans. It can be hard to make that disconnect. Some artists wear their music on their sleeves, and it is entirely too personal to really make for a strong disconnect in the first place. See most folk bands.
So, this brings us to a millennial debate- is Kanye West brilliant? He may be a psychopathic megolomaniac, but his music has consistently delivered- until now.
The Life of Pablo has too much baggage to remain a complete piece of art on its own right. As much as I have tried to disconnect Kanye West from his music, which helped round out his absolutely incredible catalog of material, it bares down too heavily on The Life of Pablo. It is too meta- too referentially unappetizing to stand out amongst his, admittedly, many great past albums.
The Life of Pablo is kind of a mess. Too many songs end before they really develop on an idea, such as the 808’s and Heartbreak ballad “Waves” or the barely-a-song and interlude-esque “Freestyle 4.” The latter which could have made a great jam, omitting an ear-splitting guest verse towards the end.
The “songs” come in and out with ADD-fashion. Only a handful of songs actually sound complete. “Famous” is one, so it makes sense it was chosen as a single (with a music video that is an obvious attempt to be as obnoxious as possible). It’s a shame this gem will always be weighed by the god-awful video. This is a prime example of how West’s own insanity is hurting his music, as opposed to helping in adding depth and nuances to it.
But, West has his both puzzling and shockingly adverse production ever-present here. “Feedback” could have easily been on Yeezus, and his haunting in its approach. “Real Friends” is a stunning example, with echoing feedback lighting every line.
Is The Life of Pablo great? Hardly. It’s a fragmented effort at best, and one grossly weighed by media antics. It makes you harken for a time where Kanye was self-aware in a different way- a way where the music firmly complemented the aesthetic he was building, instead of helping to tear it all down.