Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Karl Puschmann: Kanye's new album, The Life of Pablo, wipes out on Tidal wave

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Hip-hop star doesn’t live up to his self-appointed genius label.

With his new album Kanye West achieved the impossible. He got me to download Tidal. An astonishing accomplishment that I cannot overstate enough.

Like the rest of the world I'd forgotten about Tidal, the music streaming service pimped out by rap mogul Jay-Z and his cadre of wealthy muso pals. Theirs was an offer I could refuse. A not-at-all tempting proposition of an exorbitant monthly subscription fee coupled with a comparatively sparse catalogue. It completely failed to entice me - or anyone - away from Spotify's cheap, comfy excess.

Tidal certainly tried. After the shock of becoming a punchline wore off, Jay-Z did what Jay-Z does and got his hustle on. Soon Tidal was flooded with album exclusives, single exclusives, music video exclusives and playlist exclusives.

All of which didn't matter a damn. Exclusivity as a concept simply doesn't exist in the internet age. Before I could start to feel like I was missing out on something, Tidal's "exclusives" would pop up elsewhere.

Tidal was, in a word, stuffed. And then ... Kanye.

With all the ridiculous and boringly offensive brouhaha he creates it's easy to forget that Kanye is actually a musician. A damned good one. I'd hesitate to call him a genius, a qualm he does not share, but he's certainly incredibly talented and undoubtedly the most influential person in hip-hop. A position he's held for a long, long while.

Whatever you think of the man, his clout, importance and influence on not just rap but on modern pop music too is undeniable. His albums, each startlingly different, have repeatedly changed the game.

The College Dropout dismantled gangsta rap posturing, the boo-hoo confessionals of 808s & Heartbreak ushered in emo-rap and Vocoder abuse, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy brought back the dreaded "concept album" in triumphant, grandiose fashion, and Yeezus pioneered an abrasive, aurally confrontational, synthetic direction.

When they dropped there was nothing else like them. They challenged the listener and the boundaries of the rap genre. Each displayed uncompromising vision and restless talent. By the time the world caught up and commercialised one sound, Kanye had already moved on to the next.

So when The Life of Pablo was announced there was real excitement and genuine curiosity over what this trailblazer was going to do next. But with TLoP he's disrupted the album concept. Possibly destroyed it.

Like many music fans I've been listening to it for the past week. Even though it's not out yet. Well, it is, kind of, but the final, finished version is not. It's all a tad confusing. Kanye is still tinkering with it.

Whether by accident or design, TLoP has been a total calamity of a release. Some tracks were previewed months ago while others sound unfinished. The title kept changing, the track list kept shifting, songs came and went and came back again.

He documented the whole, chaotic, creative process, posting it all online for dissection, discussion and occasionally the illusion of input. We watched him labour and fuss and foolishly declare it to be "one of the greatest albums of all time", which - spoiler alert - it's not. It's too messy, too muddled and too horribly misogynistic.

It was released for one whole day before Kanye yanked it back. "Ima fix Wolves," he tweeted as way of explanation. Has an artist ever had the means, power or fortitude to recall an album before?

A day later TLoP reappeared as a Tidal exclusive, saying it wouldn't be released elsewhere or ever be made available for sale. A bold and bizarre strategy for a man supposedly $53 million in debt.

But this is why I, and countless others, found ourselves signing up to Tidal. It's the only way to listen to the album - which I did right after setting a reminder to cancel Tidal before its free trial ended.

Was all the hoopla worth it? It's been interesting, at least. Entertaining, certainly. More so than the actual record. TLoP's defining feature is that it's been completely overshadowed by the circus surrounding it. Musically, the album doesn't push forward, instead it looks back over his oeuvre in the most haphazard way possible. There's no consistency, instead embracing an anarchic, punkish vibe that only sometimes works.

There's hits and misses. It's frustrating and fantastic all at the same time. It's a peculiar vision, but he's mostly pulled it off. Kanye truly is an incredible artist. So it's a real bugger that he's also an insufferable jackass.

Well, nobody's perfect. But the Twitter rants, the outbursts, his dumbass antics threaten to overshadow his very real achievements. Sadly, these days he's as much meme as he is musical hero.

For someone so concerned about their legacy, he sure does seem to be going out of his way to destroy it.

- NZ Herald

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Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

A pop culture junkie, Karl has spent his career writing about the important things in life; music, film, television, comics and video games. He was editor of a popular music rag for five years and has since written regularly for every local culture/arts/lifestyle magazine worth a damn. His recent expansion into travel writing has flung him far, far from the comfort of his couch and into that bewildering place known as the ‘outdoors’. He is also currently endeavouring to make sense of the world by reviewing it over at critikarlreviewstheworld.com

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