Kanye West appears to be finally finished with The Life of Pablo, his seventh album, after a series of updates and changes added after its original release. The record explores themes of strained relationships, paranoia, mental illness, fame, heartbreak, and religion, contrasting its predecessor, 2013’s Yeezus, an album that consistently followed an extremely abrasive and experimental approach. The Life of Pablo is somewhat more complicated. This album is chaotic, somber, joyful, and experimental all at once, curated by an artist struggling with his inner demons, as well as his public image, while attempting to reach salvation.
West attempts to intertwine all of the sounds and themes of his past albums on TLOP. In doing so, West presents us with tracks such as “No More Parties in L.A.,” “Saint Pablo,” or “Real Friends,” which find him flexing his lyrical muscles and showcasing his flows or strong cadence. However, tracks or skits such as “Facts,” “Low Lights,” “I Love Kanye,” or “Silver Surfer Intermission,” which are not necessarily poor songs or skits, are weaker in comparison to other tracks on the record such as “Ultralight Beam.” These tracks seem to be out of place — the lyrics on a few songs just aren’t on the level they should be.
The emotional centerpiece of TLOP and perhaps one of West’s greatest songs, “Real Friends,” is a melancholic and introspective moment on the album which finds West delving into the harsh realities and absurdities of life as a major musical figure. West delves into the strained relationships with his family and close friends, noting he has not done enough to repair them, to the point where his public life has distanced him from his loved ones. He digs into his feelings and examines his own faults and weaknesses: “Who your real friends? We all came from the bottom / I’m always blamin’ you, but what’s sad, you not the problem / Damn I forgot to call her, shit I thought it was Thursday.” West takes it a step further and projects his own feelings of frustration and cynicism: “I hate when a nigga text you like, ‘What’s up, fam, hope you good’ / You say, ‘I’m good,’ then great, the next text they ask you for somethin’.”
The Life of Pablo would have been a much stronger project had West retained the original 10-song tracklist as opposed to the 20 on the updated version. West’s decision to include more tracks comes at the cost of having an album that just feels unfinished and a bit all over the place in certain parts. However, maybe this is deliberate; it may be indicative of West’s current state of mind as a result of dealing with controversy in the media, his struggles in the fashion world, and debt. This may explain how TLOP can go from being contemplative to celebratory to manic seemingly at the drop of a hat, mimicking West’s own tumultuous personal life and its effects on his mental health.
It may be possible that he is still in the process of updating this album even further and what this album sounds like now may not be the final product months from now. In doing so, he has managed to keep the discussions going about this album, thus maintaining public interest in it.
Despite its flaws, The Life of Pablo is still an engaging, sometimes strange, but ultimately brilliant solo effort that combines the soundscapes of all of his past work, but suffers from a lack of the focus and cohesion that was a mainstay on his last six albums.