A discursive, schizophrenic bombast of an album, Kanye West’s abrasive collage of industrial rap, soothing soul, avant-garde sonic experimentation, synth pop and autotuned crooning forms a portrait of life lived in the public eye that’s unsettling and thrilling in equal measure. Fluctuating between rough ecstasy (‘Waves,’ ‘Fade’), disquieting paranoia (‘Wolves,’ ‘Real Friends’), manic depressive mania (‘Freestyle 4,’ ‘Feedback’), and subdued melancholy (’30 Hours,’ ‘Ultralight Beam’), The Life Of Pablo is a deliberate mess of contradictions: grotesque vulgarity sits besides religious poetry; narcissistic grandstanding rubs shoulders with overwhelming self-loathing; and traces of an epochal are searched for in the most unlikely of places.
At the center of this musical barrage is West’s intimate confessional, addressing his disgraced public image, his ambivalence towards domestic life, and his efforts to retain an individual, distinctly black identity within the gentrified milieu of high-end consumerism. In a mixture of economical witticisms and didactic passages, he obliquely decries the endurance of institutionalised racism, the erosion of the private sphere, the difficulty of maintaining his cultural identity within the homogenised arena of high-end American consumerism, and the convergence of the language of religion and the language of advertising.
Frankly, it’s hard to recall an album that expresses the nuances of its creator’s inner life so unflinchingly – which is even more impressive when you consider that the album is largely concerned with exploring the mechanisms by which West’s personal life becomes narrativised and commodified by external forces (marketing teams, tabloid journalists, art critics), thus creating a series of personas that exist independently of him. In the short, playful ‘I Love Kanye,’ the musician expresses his alienation from his own star persona – “I invented Kanye / There weren’t any Kanyes / Now I look and look around and there are so many Kanyes!” At other points, his lyrics deconstruct his own perchant for framing himself as a virtuoso whose anti-social tendencies will ultimately be justified by his place in artistic history (“I can’t let these people play me / Name one genius that ain’t crazy”).
The Life Of Pablo was released on February 14th via GOOD Music and Def Jam