Is 'The Life of Pablo' A Good Album? How Kanye's New Songs Live Up To The (Self-Generated) Hype
Some artists worry about their upcoming albums generating too much early attention, with the concern being that too-high expectations will cloud and obscure the experience of the album itself. This is not an issue that plagues Kanye West, apparently, who knows his albums live up to the hype, even if no one else is so confident. And often, he's right; I think that The Life of Pablo is a good album, even a very good one. But how could it possibly live up to West's assertion that it's one of the greatest albums of all time? Well, it can't — even though suggesting that this isn't the best album ever made or that ever will be made might come across as an insult to those who think West is always right, an album that features the lyric, "Now if I f**k this model/And she just bleached her asshole/And I get bleach on my T-shirt/I'mma feel like an asshole" certainly doesn't make the cut.
The Life of Pablo hype machine has been chugging along for months now. West's apparently had it mostly finished for a while, and early listeners emerged speaking of unimaginable sonic greatness. West notably described Pablo as the greatest album of all time, but then backtracked, apparently worrying that Marvin Gaye would be pissed or something, and described it as only one of the greatest of all time. His Madison Square Garden release/fashion show/art installation further built up the legend around Pablo, and leading up to its release, the hype was absolutely enormous.
The fact that West could simultaneously claim Pablo to be GOAT while candidly discussing the extremely last minute edits he made, including the title and the inclusion of multiple new songs, is both awesome and ridiculous. It's like if I turned in a paper a few days late, convinced my professor it was the best paper I'd ever written, and then casually mentioned on the way out that I'd written my conclusion in the last 15 minutes (if I were grading Pablo in this scenario, I would want to give West an A but give him an A- to teach him a lesson about humility, punctuality, and oversharing). Additionally, the fact that West blamed the album's delays on input from others in some ways diminishes the "Kanye as visionary" image that he so aggressively promotes.
Yet that's not saying that The Life of Pablo isn't a great album, because it is; it's cohesive and expansive and incredibly moving. Listening to it reminded me of listening to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy for the first time, which felt like I was participating in a historically significant but also highly personal moment. Pablo was promoted as a gospel album, and while it doesn't exactly fit that description, it features lots of gospel moments and icons. The swelling choirs, religious references, and casual appearances of many great artists give the album a consciously canonical feel. It both goes through the motions of greatness and is genuinely great, a rare feat.
I do, however, wonder if the album suffered from the last-minute additions. It feels overlong, and I think it would have been stronger without some of the last few songs, which don't feel as expansive and lofty as the rest of the album. Songs like "30 Hours" and "Facts (Charlie Heat Version)" feel like last minute additions, which is because they were. I think the greatest album of all time should feel more cohesive than The Life of Pablodoes.
It's also difficult to pinpoint West's point of view, though anyone who's ever heard him speak will wonder if a lack of cohesion is actually his vision. Perhaps it's because Beyoncé's "Formation" was released a week ago that I want Pablo to have a scope of meaning beyond West's thoughts and West's life. I'm holding him to a high standard because he called it the greatest album of all time; most albums don't have to have a cohesive meaning or political purpose. Most albums don't feel like the product of such a unique vision, either. In short, The Life of Pablo is great, but not "the greatest" that West might think it is.