“This is a God dream”
So I’ve been following the chaos regarding the release of Kanye West’s new album The Life of Pablo and now I’ve had chance to listen to it a few times. It’s inspired some thoughts that I’d like to write about.
Like a fair few people in the World The Beatles are my absolute favourite band of all time and I can’t see that ever changing now. They just seem so above everything else in every way it’s just ridiculous. We can look back on their discography and try to understand their impact and place in history. This is a band that became the undisputed biggest band in the world and every album sold millions around the world and also had huge critical acclaim. At the time almost every album seemed to top the last album in some way. Beatles For Sale is probably the only time when they had a slight backwards step in my opinion at least. Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club was the absolute pinnacle in terms of ambition and high review scores. And then came the next album. A double album called The Beatles that is known as The White Album. At the time the band were going through a turbulent time. There were arguments and walkouts and the recording of the album was chaotic. Everybody knows this. I’m saying nothing new here. The album has been described by many as a sprawling mess.
We have the advantage now of being able to look back. Today The White Album is regarded as a classic and rightly so for me. Each Beatle had their own thing going on and their own contributions. Each song is a unique part of a whole that is totally incohesive. There are so many ideas and genres spread over a length of time that many consider to be excessive. And despite all of this it is one of the best albums of all time. Maybe the chaotic nature of it is a big part of the reason of what makes it so great. After the perfect concept album and amazing production, ambition and marketing of the previous album maybe it was the perfect time to release a messy album with a white cover that had no overall concept at all. Maybe it was a freak accident and every event leading up to it had to happen that way to allow it to achieve such a place in history. The thing is though we’re looking at the album with the benefit of hindsight. When the album was actually released the reviews were mixed. People said it was over indulgent. People said it was a mess and they definitely didn’t see this as a good thing. People thought that half of the tracks could have been thrown away and on a single disc it may have been incredible but with all of these “filler” tracks it was destined to be regarded as the first mediocre Beatles album. That was how it was when it was released.
Fast forward to February 2016. The White Album is the White Album and its legacy is assured. And there’s a producer turned rapper turned self proclaimed genius called Kanye West who has been around for a few years releasing music. Kanye started out making hip hop albums that were amazing in their genre. Just like The Beatles started making pop albums that were incredible pop albums. Then The Beatles morphed into something else entirely and branched out. They became more and more experimental. And so has Kanye West. His use of sampling and auto-tune and all the rest of it has lead him to making albums that have outgrown the genre of hip hop. And they’re still considered incredible albums and according to reviews are even better. He’s got the sales and the universal critical acclaim. His legacy is assured. He’s got concept albums and has reached the very top of what a musician can do with both sales and an amazing discography that will probably last forever. The next thing on the to do list? Make his very own White Album. No concept just an abundance of ideas that may go somewhere or nowhere. Just go with it and get it out there.
I feel like Kanye West knew that he wanted a White Album. That for me was obviously his concept with this new album he’s made. In the past he had a lyric that said “What’s a Black Beatle anyway? A fucking roach?” He’s also recently worked with Sir Paul McCartney on a few tracks. Whilst working with him I reckon he decided he was going to intentionally try to make a White Album as he definitely has the ego to think about his legacy and compare it to The Beatles. The thing is though that The Beatles did it by accident and only over time has it gained its place in history and achieved its place as one of the best albums The Beatles made. Can you intentionally set out to make a chaotic album that turns out to still be a classic? I guess only time will tell.
Kanye has thought of everything. Releasing tracks that were supposed to be on the album and then got cut. Changing release dates. Changing the name from So Help Me God to Swish to Waves and then finally T.L.O.P even days before release. Changing the track listing days before release. Releasing it only on Tidal and then other platforms and then changing his mind saying it will never be for sale and it still isn’t finished and a revised version will be released soon. And then there’s the music. It’s a long album and absolutely full of ideas. Some tracks seem average and you wonder why they’re there. The whole thing is incoherent. There are moments of boredom that are followed immediately by moments of brilliance. And the reviews are mixed. I guess he expected that too. I think he believes in it so much that he will wait 10-20 years and then expect it to be regarded as a masterpiece. It’s name even mentions Picasso who was famous for his messy art. But is the album actually any good? It really is difficult to tell. I can’t really review it. The fact he’s tried to find a formula for making a White Album has both annoyed me and gained my respect. When I listen to the album at times I think it’s the best thing he’s ever done and on other tracks I just don’t get it much like when I first listened to The White Album. Ultralight Beam blew me away immediately and there were a handful of other tracks that I think are 10/10 and actually are genius. But then other tracks bore me a little bit. The skits seem annoying already and will surely not improve at all with each listen. However if it actually somehow is his White Album then we really won’t know yet. We’ll have to just keep listening and give it a few years to see if he achieved what he set out to do. And so it is difficult to review it as a stand alone piece of music. If you reviewed The White Album back in 1968 then it would have been 50/50 whether you said it was great or average. Right now if I reviewed T.L.O.P it is 50/50 for me whether it is great or average. In 2016 The White Album is legendary. In 2064 will The Life of Pablo be legendary? Will it even be great? Will people even care at all? In one year’s time will it be considered a flop and the first misstep in Kanye’s discography? It is a conundrum and it needs time. It’s typical Kanye West in the sense that he has the balls to try to draw comparisons of himself with The Beatles when they’re pretty much untouchable. It deserves applause. At least he isn’t trying to just make a rehash of his own hit records. Regardless of what anybody thinks of him at least he pushes boundaries as well as buttons. If he looks like a fool in this moment in the future when we’re looking back on his career then at least he tried I guess. It will never be as good as The White Album but maybe it is still a great album and well worth a listen. My score is either 7 or 9 out of 10. I’ll check back in a few years and edit this post with an update to give it a final score.