Kanye West 'The Life of Pablo' review

Jimmy Coultas heads to Liverpool cinema FACT in an attempt to absorb the madness that is the Kanye West album launch.

Becca Frankland

Date published: 12th Feb 2016

Image: @kanyewest

He's back. The cult of Kanye continues with the release of The Life of Pablo, the latest long player in a career that has captivated the planet since he first graced our attention with The College Dropout 12 years and a day ago.

The lead up to this release has been an event in itself, a myriad of dramas, madness and delivered songs - many of which have since been removed from the final product. The follow up to 2013's Yeezus has also had a dizzying array of monikers, with Waves, Swish and the final one teased via an acronym - West himself offering a pair of his custom Adidas Yeezy trainers if you guessed the meaning.

And, Kanye being Kanye, there's really has been drama. Twitter has seen him go balls deep arguing with Wiz Khalifa in a now deleted and amicably settled beef (although Amber Rose claimed he preferred something going in deep elsewhere), as well as erupting on the same platform to claim Bill Cosby is innocent.

He's dubbed the album the greatest of all time only to backtrack and say it's one of them, and goes against the grain of the rushed and surprise release of peers Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna to coordinate it into a massive media event. It's broadcast live from Madison Square Garden alongside the launch of Season 3 of the aforementioned Yeezys and it's entailing fashion capsule, and screened in cinemas around the globe. If there's one thing he isn't, it's dull.

It's in Picturehouse's packed FACT cinema in Liverpool that we get to listen for the first time, in what is a pretty strange manner to absorb music (watermarked promos obviously too old fashioned a concept for Mr West). It's a bit of a bizarre event watching a stadium full of people cheer as a man plays music off his laptop and phone, like a giant house party replete with the laughter when the iPhone cable fails (Kanye's sound issues from Glastonbury continue).

Musically it's too difficult to absorb the full sonic element of the album in one go, but hearing it in a cinema does do well to amplify the subtleties of what at first listen appears to be a softer long player from, certainly in comparison to its gnarly predecessor Yeezus.

Overall this feels initially like a more withdrawn, mournful West. It's a more intimate offering, with a flurry of guests such as Chance the Rapper (on fire for the first music we hear, 'Ultra Light Beams'), Rihanna and the aforementioned Sia among the star names (the wondrous Kendrick Lamar assisted 'No more Parties in L.A', above, is unfathomably omitted). 

The clearest lineage to his previous albums lies with 808s and Heartaches, but like every release since that 2008 opus this is an artist making a departure from his past. It possesses the same ability to lurch from sound to sound as his masterpiece My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but it's impossible to tell in one showing/hearing whether this ambition is realised or if it's instead only a muddled and fleeting grasp of brilliance.

And, let's be honest, there's going to be people claiming it's both. The event in itself is equally odd, the hundreds of models sporting his post apocalyptics garbs boasting an assortment of emotional reactions coordinated by Vanessa Beecroft. Some look entirely disinterested, others squirm with discomfort whilst certain models boast grins or fight back tears (Naomi Campbell is her usual sultry best). Maybe they're not sure what to make of it all either.

Things go decidedly absurd when he reveals a computer game dedicated to his mother. Boasting pretty horrendous 16 bit graphics, it watches her fly to the gates of heaven and is indebted to the tacky absurdity of his 'Bound 2' video. It's best summed up in Kanye's own words from 'So Appalled' - "fucking ridiculous".

The cinema erupts in that weirdly derisory yet fully adulating laughter only Kanye can inspire, and by the time people leave no one is much closer to any realisation about what the album stands for. It's 75 minutes of fascinating confusion, and we're unsure Kanye would have it any other way.

Read more: Five of the best: Kanye beats for other artists

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