Kanye West - or at least his public persona - is kind of an asshole. He's bombastic, braggadocious, and impulsive to a fault. In the last few days, he's used his Twitter account to ask Mark Zuckerberg for a billion dollar "investment," request that white people stop commenting on his music, and (sadly) come to the defense of Bill Cosby. He's also not that great of a lyricist. The most famous line from his last album involved him demanding that someone in a "French-ass restaurant" hurry up with his "damn croissants." It's easy to understand why he's so off-putting to so many people.
But man, I am obsessed with his music. A snippet from any given Kanye song can have more creativity, energy, and crazy shit going on in it than other artists' entire albums. In The Life of Pablo, his latest release, he swerves from gospel choir singing and organs to heavily distorted industrial screeches to somehow making me forget that I can't stand Chris Brown. Just about everything on this album caught me off guard in one way or another, which made for a really engrossing initial listen.
There are so many standout moments strewn throughout the album that it's difficult to wrangle them together in any kind of coherent fashion. Kanye cedes the spotlight in the opening track in order to give Chance the Rapper the opportunity to deliver an absolute beast of a verse. "Famous" wastes no time transitioning from Rihanna's opening salvo into one of the most heading beats I've heard in a long time. And then there's "Real Friends," an atmospheric and melancholic earworm that makes Kanye's emotional isolation palpable. And then there's that 20 second stretch in the outro of "Wolves" that features one of the strangest and most haunting sounds that I've ever heard... and then Frank Ocean shows up for a bit and that's great too! Jeeze.
Okay, I need to pause and breathe for a second. This album is far from perfect. Unlike many of his past efforts, there's not much of a thematic through line to be found. Plenty of songs here feel like they're too short, with beats and ideas that are begging for more room to breathe. There are a few interludes that feel like complete non sequiturs that have me reaching for the skip button. And as usual, many of Kanye's lines here are total groaners. That whole bleach bit from "Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1" is possibly a new low for him.
Ah, who cares. Kanye's back, everyone! I'm going to stop writing now so I can listen to this for a seventh time.