The Bangles – Everything

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Part I: The Background

Released in 1988, “Everything” is the third album by all-girl rock group The Bangles. Released as a follow up to their extremely successful “Different Light” album, this release saw the group at the height of their popularity. As such, tensions within the group were strong, and the group would disband following the release of this album. I’m not aware of any interesting anecdotes surrounding this one aside from that Susanna Hoffs apparently recorded her vocals for “Eternal Flame” while naked, due to the producer having tricked her into thinking this would benefit her performance. Well, it worked…

Part II: The Music

In Your Room: The album kicks off with the rocking lead single. When Brian Wilson sang about his room, it was a place of solitude; a place he would go to lock himself away from all of the troubles of the world, to be alone, and to contemplate his worries and his fears. In contrast, the room Hoffs is singing about here is a place of rampant and vibrant sexuality. The 80s production on this track is nice and understated; it supports the track rather than drags it down. And the sweeping, Eastern-sounding strings evoke that mid-sixties psychedelic sound. That’s what I love about The Bangles–everything is subtle. Whatever elements they add to a track blend in with it perfectly rather than calling attention to themselves. Okay, maybe not the lyrics, but Hoffs wrote this one. What did you expect? RATING: 7.5/10

Complicated Girl: Michael Steele’s first offering on the album. As is typical of her style of songwriting, it suddenly sounds like we’re listening to a completely different band. While the other Bangles thrive in that trademark 80s sound, Steele’s music tends to look forward to the sound of the 90s. The descending guitar riff during the chorus here is catchy and extremely pleasant. And of course, Steele has an incredible sense of melody. Bonus points for the baroque pop influences during the middle eight.  RATING: 8/10

Bell Jar: I didn’t like this one at first. It’s slow and plodding. The melody is understated. The song is presumably named after the story of the same name by Sylvia Plath. But this is a Peterson sisters track, so of course it leans towards the art rock side of things. While it may not stand out at first, repeat listens reveal the intricacies of this track–the rigid drum beat and the minimal instrumentation underscore the isolation and frustration that permeate the lyrics. RATING: 7/10

Something To Believe In: Another Steele track. She’s really got an MOR sound on this album, hasn’t she? I’m not too crazy about this one as a whole. It’s a rather harmless track that never really goes anywhere… until you get to the instrumental break. The reverberating plucked acoustic notes elicit a peaceful, weightless, soaring sensation. Like little drops of water falling into a still pond. Absolutely beautiful. RATING: 7/10

Eternal Flame: The big one. Some might say this ballad is the epitome of cheese. But for me, this is The Bangles at their finest. The song is BOTH an 80s classic and a flawless callback to the sounds of the 60s. Hoffs’ vocal performance is absolutely stunning. The vibrant string arrangement during the chorus creates a dynamic contrast to the music-box-esque verses. Yeah, I don’t care what anyone says. This track is perfection. RATING: 10/10

Be With You: Another one of my personal favourites. Be With You is a rarity in The Bangles catalogue: it’s penned by Debbi without the help of her sister or Hoffs. And it’s one of the most melodically-pleasing, most catchy, and most tightly-produced tracks in their entire discography. The bells evoke that shimmering, nighttime aesthetic that I’m so fond of. The song is upbeat with the melody of a downbeat song, if that makes sense–slow it down and you have something really beautiful and touching. Oh, and the song starts with an orchestra warming up, a la Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Enough said. RATING: 10/10

Glitter Years: The best of Steele’s tracks on this album. Glitter Years–a song about the glam rock years of the early seventies–is one of Steele’s most polished compositions. I was actually a little confused about the seventies style guitar riff that opens the song, but now that I think about it in that light, it makes perfect sense. The song also contains an interpolation of Bowie’s “You Better Hang On To Yourself.” RATING: 9.5/10

I’ll Set You Free: I couldn’t actually remember what this song sounded like off the top of my head–not a good sign. Oh right, this one. Mediocre Hoffs track. Nothing more, nothing less. Except it was a single, so I guess I should say a bit more about it. But it’s really nothing special. It leans slightly on the melancholic side of things, but Hoffs’ vocals aren’t all that convincing on this track. Sounds very phoned-in. But it’s not bad; melody-wise it is single material, I suppose. RATING:6/10

Watching The Sky: This may be the heaviest song The Bangles ever recorded. It kicks off with a booming drum beat. A fierce, fiery guitar riff is then layered on top of that along with a growling bass. And Vicki, being the genius that she is, is still able to take this and throw a melodically-pleasing, pseudo-psychedelic vocal melody on top of it. The song almost gets progressive at times, especially during the synth solo. RATING: 9/10

Some Dreams Come True: I guess Debbi put everything she had into “Be With You”, because this one’s nowhere near as good. At best, it’s a slightly above-par 80s-sounding album cut. The chorus is kind of weak and even comes across as rushed. But hey, like everything else on this album (can you tell I’m a fan yet?), the song is perfectly listenable. RATING: 6.5/10

Make A Play For Her Now: Vicki always has the best songs. This dark, moody piece provides the exact sort of atmosphere you need during the latter half of an album. Definitely one of the more ethereal moments on the album. RATING: 7.5/10

Waiting For You: This is going to be completely unfair, because objectively the track is pretty straightforward, but it happens to be my favourite Bangles song. The melody that kicks in at the ends of the verses over the descending bass note riff is one hell of a hook. But what lifts this track to perfection is the fact that the chorus presents an equally appealing melodic hook. I actually like the lyrics on this one too, which is not something I’ll usually say about a Hoffs song. I mean, they’re not great or anything, but there’s something hypnotizing about the line “Stars and the moon wait for you in my lonely room.” I also really dig the unique structure of this song; the chorus only repeats a single time, after an instrumental break, before returning to the verse (I think this would be AABBA structure, but don’t quote me on that because I’m no expert on these sorts of things). Another great song that uses this structure is Graham Nash’s “Hey You (Looking At The Moon)”. RATING: 10/10

Crash And Burn: And it all ends with a rocker–but in typical Bangles style, it’s a pop rocker with one hell of a catchy melody. I can totally picture myself “winding through the hot night without my headlights” when I hear this song. It’s a cruising the highway song, is what it is. It didn’t wind up being the swan song for the group–still to come was the single “Everything I Wanted” from the Greatest Hits album and of course the (as of 2016) two reunion albums. But it wasn’t really meant to be one either. It’s just another great album closer that breaks from the songs that come before it to highlight the group’s influences. No really, think about it. All Over The Place ends with the psychedelic/baroque pop piece “More Than Meets The Eye”. Different Light ends with the McCartney-esque–or rather, knowing what we know about the group, the Emitt Rhodes-esque–“Not Like You”. This one ends with a upbeat rocker. A fitting end to a great album and to the classic era of one of the greatest all-female rock groups of all time. RATING: 8/10

PART III: The Album

Aesthetic: As I said earlier, The Bangles were masters at taking 80s production styles and blending them seamlessly with sounds from previous decades. The production never calls attention to itself. But the album cover is kind of not that great. The Bangles have this weird thing going on where every album cover–for the pre-reunion albums at least–looks like the cover of a greatest hits record. You know, the name should also play into aesthetic, shouldn’t it? I’m not convinced that “Everything” is an appropriate title for this album. Sorry. SCORE: 2/5

Artistic Merit: Some. More so on Michael and Vicki’s tracks. They’re not exactly pushing boundaries here, but you can have a great album that takes the best of previously established styles and sprinkles some top-notch songwriting on top to make a hell of an album. But uh… Different Light does all of those things and better. SCORE: 2.5/5

Flow: The Michael Steele songs, as I said, don’t really fit in with the rest of the album. They don’t even fit in with the rest of the band’s output from that decade. The songs do at least all sound like they originate from the same era of the band–the post-peak but still artistically viable period. SCORE: 6/10

CLOSING REMARKS: Overall, “Everything” is not quite as strong as their previous effort, “Different Light”, but it does succeed in reaching the same peaks. You can kind of hear the members beginning to go their own separate ways, but it’s not completely disorienting either. I am quite fond of this one, yeah.

FINAL SCORE: 76/100

The Beach Boys – Summer In Paradise

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Part I: The Background

Summer In Paradise is The Beach Boys’ 27th studio album, released pretty late in their career. The album was recorded without any involvement from creative mastermind Brian Wilson and is generally considered to be the worst outing in the band’s oeuvre. The album was a commercial bomb, and apparently the distributor even went bankrupt. Why? Well the songwriting wasn’t up to par, to say the least. Add to that the incredibly sterile production (this album dates back to a time when digital recording was still in its infancy–in fact, it was recorded using a beta version of Pro Tools) and you have a recipe for disaster.

Beach Boy Mike Love essentially set out to create the quintessential summer album, apparently forgetting that he and his bandmates had already accomplished that with 1964’s All Summer Long. From a cheesy quasi-rap number (that was apparently supposed to be a duo with Bart Simpson–yes, you read that right) to an ill-advised remake of a Beach Boys classic, featuring Full House actor John Stamos on lead vocals, the album was, indisputably, a disaster. But is the album REALLY as bad as everyone says?

Oh. Before we get started, I should probably also mention that there are two versions of the album: the US and the UK. The UK version was released slightly afterwards, and some of the songs were rerecorded. I must (very ashamedly) admit that I still have yet to get my hands on the UK version. So this review pertains to the US release.

Part II: The Music

Hot Fun In The Summertime: The album kicks off with a cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun In The Summertime”. It’s pretty straightforward as far as covers go; there’s not much originality injected into the arrangement. In fact, the only real noticeable difference is the incredibly sterile production. The layered harmonies do add some degree of charm. Basically, this isn’t a good song, but it’s not all that offensive either. RATING: 3.5/10

Surfin’: Why? Why in the world would they decide to include a remake of their debut single? This immediately makes the listener recall the band’s earlier (re: better) albums. And this remake is as half-assed as they come. It doesn’t deserve a full review. But the actual song is a pretty damn good one. Too bad they went out of their way to ruin it with this sloppy arrangement. RATING: 1/10

Summer Of Love: Mike Love the rapper. And honestly, it’s not THAT bad. The background vocals are reminiscent of the early surf/car hits and the chorus is actually quite catchy (even if parts of it are directly lifted from their 1980 song “Some of Your Love”). The song does have an infectious groove. RATING: 3/10

Island Fever: This is where we first start to realize that this album isn’t actually as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Island Fever is a pretty solid track. It boasts that same laid-back, Hawaiian (or maybe Carribean) vacation feel as their massive hit Kokomo does. We’ve got two nice melodies: the chorus (with splendid backing vocals by Al Jardine) and the verse (backed by angelic harmonies courtesy of… well the other Beach Boys). An art rock masterpiece this is not, but so what? As a pop song, there’s not a hell of a lot you can fault it with. RATING: 6/10

Still Surfin’: A pretty mediocre track. The nostalgic lyrics fall a little flat, but musically the song is accessible and inoffensive. It’s a good enough pastiche of the sunshine pop of the sixties and is only very slightly marred by the synthetic production (which isn’t as obtrusive here as it is elsewhere on the album). RATING: 4/10

Slow Summer Dancin’ (One Summer Night): Typical Bruce Johnston schmaltz. But I happen to like Bruce Johnston schmaltz. This waltz number is sentimental in the cheesiest way. It’s also partly a cover of the doo wop song “One Summer Night”, originally performed by The Danleers. I actually like that Bruce took the song and blended it with one of his own compositions, rather than choosing to perform a straight-up cover. The song doesn’t mimic the doo wop feel of the original, and instead goes for a late eighties ballad feel. Again, if you can tolerate the schmaltz, it isn’t all that bad. RATING: 3.5/10

Strange Things Happen: Another of the album’s better offerings. Ignore the lyrics about some really rad, superstitious hippy chick. Ignore the MOR/adult contemporary production. Ignore the bland musicianship and rehashed tropical island feel of the track. What do you have left? Nothing, actually. But again, I feel that those things aren’t inherently negative qualities that automatically devalue a song. There are some reversed hats at the end of the track to spice things up a little–that was a neat touch, I thought. RATING: 5/10

Remember (Walking In The Sand): I’m going to get a lot of flack for saying this, but I think I actually like this better than the original, performed by the Shangri-Las (blasphemy, I know!). Carl’s vocal here is on point as usual. The backing vocals and arpeggiated synths along with the the wailing saxophone create an intense, melancholic yet energetic vibe. Unlike “Hot Fun In The Summertime” The Beach Boys really add a unique spin to this track, and it’s excellent. Bonus points for the lyrical callback to The Little Girl I Once Knew. RATING: 6/10

Lahaina Aloha: The hidden gem not only of this album, but of the Beach Boys’ entire discography. This song takes everything there is to love about that Carribean/tropical island feel and channels it into what’s actually a damn good song. Its genuine sentimentality reminds me of the classic song “Jamaica Farewell” (which the Beach Boys actually recorded a cover of at some point). But what really makes this track is Carl’s soaring vocals on the chorus, which he provides effortlessly. It’s understated moments like these that demonstrate that Carl was one of the greatest vocalists ever to have lived. The song is catchy and melodically pleasing all the way from the neat little guitar riff that begins the song to the fade out at the end. RATING: 9/10

Under The Boardwalk: And just when the album is getting good… another uninspired cover. But again, the trademark Beach Boys harmonies and heavenly vocals from Carl transform this track into something quite listenable. RATING: 3.5/10

Summer In Paradise: In the title track, Mike Love does what he does best: remind everyone about all of the great songs he’s been a part of in the past rather than focusing on the present. The song is underscored by a not-so-subtle environmental message, which is actually a pretty fitting end to the album. Think about it. The entire album up until this point has been focused on having fun in the sun, about tropical paradises, about surfing those crystal-clear waves. But all of that’s jeopardized if we don’t start taking care of the oceans. Unfortunately, the lyrics lack a sense of poetry and come across as plain old preachy. But not a bad song. Not at all. RATING: 5/10

Forever: Terrible cover of Dennis Wilson’s beautiful song. RATING: 0/10

Part III: The Album

Aesthetic: The production is horrendous. 80’s production usually gets a bad rap; sure it’s cheesy and synthetic, but it has a degree of charm to it. The early 90’s production style used here lacks that charm. When the production is understated, the album is better for it. The ALBUM ART, however, is a thing of beauty. Makes me with I could get my hands on a vinyl pressing of this album (as far as I’m aware, the only pressing in existence is a South Korean one of questionable legality). The art really captures the beauty of a tropical paradise, while also evoking an environmentalist theme. Oddly enough, one of the best album covers in the Beach Boys discography. SCORE: 2/5 

Artistic Merit: You’re joking, right? SCORE: 0/5

Flow: Yeah, the songs fit together well enough. I wouldn’t call it a song-cycle or anything like that, but they all do have a similar tone and production style and all revolve around a similar theme. It’s a cohesive listen, even if the cohesion amounts to something less than satisfactory. SCORE: 5/10

Part IV: Supplemental Listening

Soul Searchin’: This track’s genesis dates back to Brian Wilson’s sessions with Andy Paley. The song has a distinct, soulful Phil Spector sound, and with that oldies feel, it wouldn’t have been out of place on the 15 Big Ones album. The song features Carl Wilson on lead in what I believe is his last performance on a Brian-penned track. The song can be found on the Made In California box set, and an updated version was also featured on Brian’s Gettin’ In Out Of My Head album. RATING: 7.5/10

You’re Still A Mystery: This song’s the highlight of the Paley sessions. Like “Soul Searchin'”, it was recorded with The Beach Boys in mind, but an album never came to fruition and so the song was scrapped. The arrangement here is classic Brian, even if the vocal is a little rough. Melody-wise, this song’s just as good as anything Brian’s ever done. There’s a bootleg version that circulates, but be wary: that version plays at the wrong speed (and consequently the wrong pitch). For an official release, check out disc 5 of the Made In California box set. RATING: 9.5/10

CLOSING REMARKS: I’m biased because of how big a Beach Boys fan I am, but honestly, this album really just isn’t as horrendous as its reputation suggests. Is it worth a listen? Not necessarily. But I can’t help but think that a lot of the flak this album gets has more to do with the fact that it’s a freaking Beach Boys album rather than the actual quality. But Brian wasn’t involved, so what did you expect?

FINAL SCORE: 40/100

Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

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Part I: The Background

The Life of Pablo is Kanye West’s 7th studio album, not counting Watch the Throne (his collaboration album with mentor Jay-Z) and Cruel Summer (a compilation album featuring the roster of Kanye’s GOOD Music label). The era accompanying this album officially kicked off with the release of the single Only One, a soulful, melodic collaboration with Beatle Paul McCartney. 2015 saw the release of two other tracks resulting from the collaboration between two of music’s most talented innovators: the acoustic ballad FourFiveSeconds (which was, for the most part, a Rihanna track) and the trap-influenced banger All Day. After the release of these singles, however, Kanye went silent. The actual album wouldn’t be released until 2016–and its release would be chaotic, unprecedented, and altogether legendary.

Kanye premiered the album during a live event at Madison Square Garden, during which he also unveiled his latest fashion offerings. The premiere was a bit of a mess and left many fans scratching their heads. At this point, the album was unfinished (Kanye had been frequently posting updates to the album’s title and tracklist on Twitter prior to the event), and made for a less than satisfactory listen. The absolute nadir of this event was when it devolved into Kanye passing around an aux cable to allow his collaborators to show off their own tracks. Still, fans eagerly anticipated an official release following the premiere… but nothing came.

Two days later, after a performance on Saturday Night Live, Kanye finally released the album as a Tidal exclusive. Even then, the album was unfinished. Over the next couple months, Kanye proceeded to tweak the album, changing components of the instrumentals, altering or adding a new line here or there, and adding background vocals and additional instrumentation. The various iterations of the album had many likening it to a video game or software release, with each update being the equivalent of a patch. And of course, the existence of alternate versions of the album (as well as tracks like Only One, All Day, and Feel Like That, which were left off the album), led fans to rearrange the album themselves in order to come up with an ideal tracklist that suited their personal preferences. The idea of fans rearranging the bits and pieces of an album isn’t a new one; Beach Boys fans have been doing this for years with the legendary SMiLE album. But what this goes to show is that if the album could be summed up in a single word, that word is incohesive.

Part II: The Music

Ultralight Beam: The album kicks off with one of its strongest tracks. “Ultralight Beam” captures the gospel theme better than any other song on the album; not only are Kanye’s and Chance the Rapper’s verses highly spiritual, but the song also features immaculate choir vocals, a soulful verse sung by Kelly Price, and a spoken word sermon by Kirk Franklin. Kanye’s vocals on this track are understated–he provides a simple yet effective melody to capture the mood of the song. Chance steals the spotlight here with what may go down as one of the greatest verses of all time; he has wordplay, he has flow, and he has dynamics (the verse builds to an explosive climax as he remarks “I laugh in my head ’cause I bet that my ex lookin’ back like a pillar of salt”). The reversed chords that drive the song are both solemn and haunting, evoking spirituality while also being ominous. The only blemish on this otherwise perfect track is Mike Dean’s mastering. The choir vocals distort–heavily. This decision was intentional, but it sounds terrible on headphones nevertheless. But that’s best left to the aesthetic portion of the review. RATING: 10/10

Father Stretch My Hands Part 1: While Ultralight Beam may best represent the intended theme of the album, “FSMH Part 1” best represents the actual theme of the album. The song jarringly contrasts spirituality with debauchery. The backing vocals, sample, and chorus (beautifully sung by Kid Cudi in one of his best vocal performances to date) are altogether uplifting and positive. This is contrasted with Kanye’s autotuned verse, which he kicks off with one of his most laughed at lyrics to date: “Now if I fuck this model / And she just bleached her asshole / And I get bleach on my T-Shirt / I’ma feel like an asshole.” But that’s precisely what makes this song so incredible. Kanye’s previous album, Yeezus, was a musical joke that, if you understood Kanye and the intention behind his vulgar irreverence, you were in on. The Life of Pablo, particularly on songs like this one, captures that same irreverence while adding an element of musicality. Instead of being bolstered by dissonant industrial screeches, Kanye’s careless arrogance is laid on top of some of the most melodic, accessible tracks he’s put together to date. RATING: 10/10

Father Stretch My Hands Part 2: The aforementioned irreverence carries over to Part 2. Here, Kanye hits us with an emotional verse where he touches on subjects such as his neglectful father, his near-fatal car crash, and his mother’s untimely death. This is, logically, followed by Desiigner’s incoherent mumbling about “broads in Atlanta” and Black X6s (Phantom!). And yet… it works. Kanye is a master at pulling off this kind of contrast; the song manages to be an energetic banger while simultaneously being a moody, introspective piece. At the end of the track, Kanye takes a modular approach, abruptly splicing in the sample used in Part 1. Sandwiched in between that, is a processed vocal by Caroline Shaw, which blends in perfectly despite having nothing to do with the track so far. Of course, the song does lose some points for the fact that Kanye essentially just took Desiigner’s hit “Panda” and slapped his verse on top of it, but the song really does feel at home on this album despite its jarring nature. RATING: 9.5/10

Famous: “For all my southside niggas that know me best / I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous!” The radio-friendly and yet not-so-radio-friendly masterpiece of the album. The song features a straightforward yet catchy drum beat, laid down by Havoc of Mobb Deep. Splice in a Nina Simone sample (the reason the song was initially titled Nina Chop), an interpolation of that sample by Rihanna, and ad-libs by hype man Swizz Beats, throw one of Kanye’s most scathing and irreverent verses on top of it (the Taylor Swift line in particular netting him quite a bit of controversy), and you have “Famous”. This track is another perfect example of disparate elements blending together to form a perfect whole; the chorus is catchy and emotionally resonant, the verses are bizarre and vulgar, the beat is banging, and the chopped up sample of Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” that concludes the song is one of the best moments of Kanye’s entire career. RATING: 10/10

Feedback: The most Yeezus-esque song on the album. The track is punctuated by a blaring siren backed by industrial drums (and in the updated version, a thumping bass synth). One of the more lyrically satisfying cuts on the album, “Feedback” is a hype track that manages to accomplish exactly what it sets out to. It doesn’t really fit into the album’s overarching theme, but it is probably the most fun you’re going to have listening to a song from this album (this reviewer still has yet to grow tired of the comical “Ghetto Oprah” segment). Unfortunately, the updated version of this track cuts back on some of the synths, making for a much less engaging listen. RATING: 7.5/10

Lowlights: An interlude that sets the mood for the next track. The piano chords, backed by a thumping bassline, create an intense, suspenseful atmosphere that is resolved only when this song ends and the next begins. The vocal sample, lifted from a eurodance track, relates back to the gospel theme of the album; the female vocalist delivers a heartfelt ode to God, albeit one which drags on for a little too long. The song perfectly sets the mood for the following track, and thus functions well as a transition, but is a little lacking due to the fact that it meanders for over two minutes. RATING: 2/3

Highlights: A standout track for 3 reasons: 1) Kanye delivers one of his greatest melodies during the chorus, the robotic tone of the processed vocals contributing to the futuristic atmosphere created by the track. He takes full advantage of the Autotune here, using the effect to accentuate and punctuate his vocals rather than simply to correct his pitch. 2) Contrast the chorus with Kanye’s lazy use of autotune during the verse, where he simply slaps the effect over a vaguely melodic rap–this is exactly how NOT to use the effect. But it’s that comedic irreverence from Yeezus coming into play yet again. The GoPro lyric is so obscene and ill-suited to the overall mood of the song that you just have to laugh. Ditto for Kanye’s rap verse, during which he takes shots at Ray J for his song Hit It First. 3) Those synths. When the chorus kicks in for the second time, it’s accompanied by some of the most beautiful, soaring synths I’ve ever heard—the soundscape evokes an image of an urban metropolis, a futuristic city floating above the clouds. The sound hearkens back to Kanye’s production on Graduation. RATING: 10/10

Freestlye 4: Here’s an example of a song made better in later iterations. Another explicit song about sex, Freestlye 4 is lacking both in lyrical content and in production value. In fact, the whole song pretty much revolves around a haunting, ominous Goldfrapp sample. Still, there’s a primal quality to Kanye’s vocals that add a perhaps contrived depth to the song; Kanye is questioning the way we perceive sexuality as unnatural, just as Paul McCartney did so many years ago with “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road”. Or, you know, maybe it’s just a terrible freestyle. Desiigners autotuned tag isn’t exactly pleasant, though it does ramp up the tension towards the end of the song. The eerie piano parts and backwards samples added in the updated version do contribute to the atmosphere of the track, making for a somewhat more involving listen. RATING: 7/10

I Love Kanye: Kanye getting meta. An ode to everyone who thinks he peaked with The College Dropout, or Late Registration, or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. When I first heard this track during the MSG premier, I couldn’t help but smile. This track is, as the lyrics state, so Kanye. RATING: 3/3

Waves: A last-minute addition to the album. We have Chance to thank for this song’s inclusion, and thank him we must. The chopped up choir sample creates a heavenly atmosphere, used as the backdrop for this gorgeous, uplifting track. Chris Brown delivers one of the best vocal performances on a Kanye album–the soaring chorus alone makes this track worthwhile. Kanye’s verse, penned by Chance, I believe, is heartfelt and resonant, as is the overall message of the song: Waves don’t die (we live on in the memories and feelings of those we made an impression on). Of course, Kanye starts the track by rapping about his favourite subject: his genitals. Seriously. I defend his irreverence and humour a lot on this album, but in this case, his introductory verse simply mars an otherwise excellent track. There’s also the fact that the instrumental drags on for a little long, with nothing but Kid Cudi’s humming and Chris Brown’s vocal freestyling to sustain it, but there’s a distinct charm to the incomplete nature of the tune. RATING: 9/10

FML: Kanye concludes the album with a trio of melancholic, introspective tracks. If we’re tying this one back into the main theme of the album, this track represents confession. Kanye opens up about his infidelity, his mental issues, and most importantly, his vulnerability. His insecurity is accentuated by The Weeknd’s lament-like chorus, which twists this insecurity into something empowering. “Even though I always fuck my life up / Only I can mention me.” Even if he’s a materialistic sinner, only Kanye is able to judge Kanye. The raw emotionality of the tag, sung by Kanye over a pitched-up sample of Section 25’s “Hit” serves as the breathtaking climax of the song—you hear his voice cracking and his cries becoming unintelligible as he pours out his soul. RATING: 10/10

Real Friends: Another somewhat confessional song. The drums on this track echo those on Famous, but this time they’re overlaid with sombre, subdued piano chords. This also happens to be one of the most relatable and emotionally moving tracks in Kanye’s ouvre; on “Real Friends”, Kanye laments the shallow and fickle nature of relationships between so-called friends and how those relationships tend to dissolve over time. Anyone’s who’s ever had a friend that suddenly became “too busy” to make time to hang out or even just chat or anyone who’s ever had a friend call them up only to ask for a favour can relate. The harmonies on the chorus, sung by Ty Dolla $ign, are immensely satisfying. But most importantly, the haunting vocals that conclude the track perfectly segue into the album closer.  RATING: 9/10

Wolves: WHICH / ONE? The Wolves Kanye “fixed”? For those not in the know, “Wolves” was premiered months before the album release and featured verses by Vic Mensa and Sia. When TLOP dropped on Tidal, the guest verses (and the marching-band-like drums at the end of Kanye’s verse) were dropped in favour of a rapped verse by Kanye where he spits lyrical gold such as “You left your fridge open, somebody just took a sandwich” and “I know it’s corny bitches you wish you could unfollow / I know it’s corny niggas you wish you could unswallow.” It’s understandable why some people would be upset with the verse, which kills the mood of this otherwise heartfelt expression of pain. Kanye expresses disappointment in himself, wondering what his mother would think were she around to see how he turned out. Kanye’s rap verse, in this reviewers opinion, treads that thin line between humorous and obnoxious; while some may find it off-putting, I actually loved its abrasiveness. Now, the updated version adds back Vic Mensa’s and Sia’s verses (albeit truncated versions) and (for no good reason) removes Frank Ocean’s tag (this became its own song entitled “Frank’s Track”). It’s a powerful, melodic song that’s in line with some of the Paul McCartney material and hints at what the album might have been had Kanye not shifted gears after All Day didn`t get that warm of a reception. RATING: 10/10

Frank’s Track: Now its own track, the original ending to Wolves once again serves as the perfect outro to the album. It`s great to hear from Frank, even if the reverberation suggests that he recorded his verse in the bathroom. RATING: 3/3

Bonus Tracks: Then there are the bonus tracks. I consider Frank’s Track to be the end of the album proper (Kanye clearly states in 30 Hours that the rest of the tracks on the album are bonus tracks), and so I wasn’t going to factor them into the album’s score… BUT Kanye had to upset me by not releasing a physical (which could’ve clarified the situation by clearly labelling the remainder of the album as bonus material). So I’m going to make these songs count… to a degree. The album proper will comprise 75% of the “Music” mark, while the bonus tracks will comprise the remaining 5%.

Silver Surfer Interlude: Yeezy, Yeezy, what’s good? This is basically a Wiz Khalifa diss–Wiz called Kanye out for considering naming his album “Waves”, since rapper Max B apparently has a monopoly on that word. Lo and behold, Kanye decided to include a recorded phone call in which Max B expresses his support for Kanye; he’s a “wavy dude” who knows how to “keep it loopy”. This track is so stupid and pointless that it became a meme among Kanye fans. And if you happen to be one, the comedic factor alone makes this track a highlight. RATING: 3/3 

30 Hours: Some solid verses from Kanye reflecting on old relationships. Kanye uses one of his trademark tactics here of twisting a vocal sample to make it sound like the singer is saying something other than what they’re actually saying. This song is also the album’s biggest tease; Andre 3000 provides backing vocals but doesn’t actually spit a verse. The ad libs at the end of the track are reminiscent of the track “Last Call” from The College Dropout, except for the fact that they’re, you know, terrible. RATING: 7.5/10

No More Parties In L.A.: Kanye’s best track lyrically in years. No, really. He OUTSHINES KENDRICK LAMAR on this track. Madlib delivers as usual with the beat, which revolves around a sample from the song “Suzie Thundertussy”. This is a bit of Old Kanye for the fans. We get an explanation for the album title here: “I feel like Pablo when I’m working on my shoes / I feel like Pablo when I see me on the news / I feel like Pablo when I’m working on my house.” There are 3 Pablos in question: Pablo Picasso (the artist), Pablo Escobar (the criminal), and just plain old Pablo (the Latin American stereotype). According to Kanye, Pablo also refers to Saint Paul. So Kanye is all of those things at once: an artist, a notorious person, a saint, but also just a regular human being. RATING: 9/10

FACTS: A throwaway that got tacked onto the end of the album for no logical reason. The updated beat, however, salvages the track (the original Soundcloud release isn’t as engaging), in which Kanye calls out Nike and brags about Kimoji making “a million a minute”. RATING: 4/10

Fade: This song would be a great album closer if it weren’t so… bare. Even more bizarre is the fact that this song was released as a single. The updated version was even more underproduced, dropping the hi-hats that originally livened up the instrumental during the verses and abruptly cutting off the vocal sample mid-word. I say was because we’ve since reverted back to the first version. Post Malone’s autotuned verse alone makes this song worthy of inclusion, though. RATING: 7.5/10

Saint Pablo: The latest addition to the album. This is one of Kanye’s meta tracks, where he raps about everything from his debt, to how many people torrented the album. I’m not really a fan of the chorus, sung by Sampha, and the lyrics kind of come with an expiration date. This isn’t that great a song, to be honest, but some do consider it to be a return to form lyrically (personally, I don’t think it comes anywhere near No More Parties in L.A.). RATING: 7/10

 

Part III: The Album

Aesthetic: I’m a little split here. On the one hand, the album art doesn’t have much appeal. It doesn’t capture the mood of the album at all… unless we consider that comedic irreverence that I mentioned. In that case, the album cover PERFECTLY encapsulates the album: it’s a jarring, random, incohesive, abstract mess. Either that, or it was thrown together at the last second just like everything else. The production is solid and perfectly fits with the tone of the album. The mastering is a little on the loud end and leaves something to be desired (see my complaints about “Ultralight Beam”). SCORE: 4/5

Artistic Merit: Another tough one. How much of the artistic merit of this album is based on my subjective interpretation verses Kanye’s intent (i.e. am I giving him too much credit for the album’s sloppiness)? But then again, can that not be said for any piece of art? This album doesn’t really innovate musically; it takes the abrasiveness of Yeezus and adds melody to it. But there is the whole “living, breathing work of art” thing–the concept of “album patches” is pretty revolutionary. The gospel theme kind of falls apart if you place it under too much scrutiny, but it does hold together much better than you might think (and certainly a lot better than Sgt. Pepper’s “concept”, which is abruptly dropped after 2 songs). This does, however, represent the next stage in Kanye’s evolution, and it does represent Kanye taking a new and exciting direction with his music. Yeah, you know what, this is peak Kanye. SCORE: 5/5

Flow: Okay, I started this review by calling the album incohesive. BUT, as I’ve stated numerous times, that’s kind of the point. Actually, it works as an album quite well as long as you consider “Wolves” to be the actual ending. Which I did… until Saint Pablo was tacked onto the end of the album. Now I’m not so sure. So I’ll have to deduct a few points for lack of cohesion. SCORE: 8/10

CLOSING REMARKS: The Life of Pablo is sure to be polarizing like 808s and Yeezus before it. It isn’t really as much of an artistic statement as those two albums. But nevertheless, there’s something addicting about it. Sure, it has its shortcomings, but it pretty much perfectly encapsulates the phenomenon that is Kanye West. The songs are catchy and experimental at the same time, and so the album has an incredibly high replay value. So while my score may not reflect it, know that in my eyes, this album is a perfect 30/10.

FINAL SCORE: 90/100

 

 

Album Rating Criteria

Here’s a breakdown of the criteria I use when coming up with an album’s rating.

Music

Each song on the album gets a rating out of 10. Skits, interludes, or any other tracks that aren’t full-fledged songs get a mark out of 3 (A mark of 0 means the piece detracts from the album, a mark of 1 means it doesn’t detract from the album but doesn’t benefit it either, a mark of 2 means it benefits the album but can’t stand on its own, and a mark of 3 means it’s enjoyable in its own right). The music score, then, is the average of all of the tracks on an album. This score accounts for 80% of the album’s final rating.

Aesthetic

This is where things like the album art, the album title, the song titles, or any other non-musical elements that contribute to the overall feel of the album come into play. This also takes into considering the production and mastering of the album. This score accounts for 5% of the album’s final rating.

Artistic Merit

This score considers things like theme, concept, experimentation, innovation, artistic vision, depth… all that pretentious stuff. This accounts for 5% of the album’s final rating.

Flow

Finally, this score considers how well the album functions as, well… an album. How satisfying is the listen from start to finish? How well is the album sequenced? Does it feel like a cohesive listening experience rather than a random assortment of tracks? Is the whole greater than the sum of its parts? All of that comes into play here. This score accounts for the remaining 10% of the album’s rating.