Tag Archives: Taylor Swift

The Life of Pablo by Kanye West

0353d2f8948ef30eaa9b296a15cf5907.1000x1000x1

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I love Kanye West. Both the music and the man. This is a rock blog but over the past 10 years or so I’ve warmed to hip-hop, thanks largely in part to the works of Mr. West. I totally get why most people don’t like the persona of Kanye West: he’s brash, arrogant, and sexist. Defending Axl Rose has never been about Axl Rose, but instead about the artists like Rose who operate on a completely different level than 99.999% of the rest of us. These exceptional artists have a vision and spend their lives struggling to bring that vision in its pure, uncompromised, form to the masses. They push boundaries in genre and offer us a window into both the artist and ourselves. Kanye West is a genius on the same level as Brian Wilson. Do I cringe when he belittles Taylor Swift or goes on Twitter and proclaims Bill Cosby “innocent”? Hell yes I do. But Kanye doesn’t really hurt anyone but himself so I forgive him. The music is so good I can overlook his faults.

THE LIFE OF PABLO has been on my must-listen list back when it was called SWISH and WAVES.  When it came out last month, on the Jay-Z backed music streaming service Tidal, I downloaded the Tidal app and contemplated canceling my beloved Spotify subscription just so I could hear the record. I waited, with bated-fanboy breath, for Yeezus to announce when the non-Tidal world would get an opportunity to hear his latest masterpiece. Then the confusion began: the album’s physical sale was delayed and then it was scrapped. West proclaimed his album would never be fore sale on Twitter, despite the fact that he’d already given it away sort of by issuing download codes to the people who attended his NYC fashion show where the album debuted. Now there’s word that Kanye is still editing/changing the album, thus making THE LIFE OF PABLO the Star Wars of rap albums (Kanye = George Lucas).

This review has two paragraphs defending the man and giving context to the release of the album because that’s the only way to interface with Kanye’s music. One can’t like or dislike these tracks without taking the performance art piece that is Kanye West in as a whole. He’s worked (famously) with Paul McCartney and no doubt sees himself as a modern-day John Lennon, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that Kanye West is really the modern-day Yoko Ono (Ono the artist not the Beatle girlfriend).

THE LIFE OF PABLO opens with gospel “Ultralight Beam.” An epic, beautiful track that begins with West’s 4 year old daughter praising Jesus and then builds to a rapturous choir. This song, about as unconventional as a pop song could be, works on a pure emotional level. I’m 100% agnostic but by the time Chance the Rapper comes in near the end I feel like a true Believer. The album descends from the opener’s lofty heights rollercoasting up and down a few times and bottoms out on “FML.” Here is what all the Kanye haters seem to miss about him: he’s not only his own worst enemy, he’s also his biggest critic. “FML” is about how he fucks up his own life. The song is about West’s troubles with infidelity, which is also touched on in “30 Hours” where West feels jealous because he finds himself on the wrong end of an open-relationship (one that he admits he insisted on having). “Real Friends” continues the tradition of “Runaway” and paints West as a workaholic loner who lives in a cold, friendless world. “Wolves” is another somber track where West gives insight into what it’s like to be a solitary figure against the whole of the world. You can’t help but feel sorry for they guy, even when later he compares himself and Kim to Mary and Joseph (yes, that Mary and Joseph).

Of course no review of THE LIFE OF PABLO would be complete without discussing “Famous,” the song where he throws gasoline on his feud with Taylor Swift. I don’t believe Kanye’s assertion that he “made that bitch famous,” but I do think that Swift has greatly benefited from her association with West. Just like Batman needs the Joker, Swift provides the perfect heroic foil to West’s exaggerated douchebag persona. That West has chosen to rag on America’s sweetheart and the music world’s biggest, most popular modern artist isn’t surprising. He’s jealous of her and like the third grade boy tugging his classmates ponytails; he’s picking on her because he likes her. It’s a shame West mars an otherwise perfect song with such a cringeworthy verse. Rihanna and the Sister Nancy sample are such a killer combo and balance West’s tough guy rapping.

My current favorite track, however, is probably the most-Kanye track of all-time. Title “I Love Kanye,” the song is a 43 second song that is just West with no musical accompaniment. The lyrics speak for themselves:

“I miss the old Kanye, straight from the ‘Go Kanye
Chop up the soul Kanye, set on his goals Kanye
I hate the new Kanye, the bad mood Kanye
The always rude Kanye, spaz in the news Kanye
I miss the sweet Kanye, chop up the beats Kanye
I gotta to say at that time I’d like to meet Kanye
See I invented Kanye, it wasn’t any Kanyes
And now I look and look around and there’s so many Kanyes
I used to love Kanye, I used to love Kanye
I even had the pink polo, I thought I was Kanye
What if Kanye made a song about Kanye
Called “I Miss The Old Kanye,” man that would be so Kanye
That’s all it was Kanye, we still love Kanye
And I love you like Kanye loves Kanye.”

The track ends with West laughing, and it’s a pretty good punchline, but there’s a lot of naked, personal honesty in this song. I don’t see Kanye as the arrogant asshole he’d like us to believe he his. Nor do I view him as the villain his detractors make him out to be. For me, Kanye West is a tragic figure of Shakespearean proportions. If he was an oblvious asshole even his biggest fans couldn’t forgive him (myself included). But Kanye is acutely aware of his failings and I think would genuinely like to be the good guy.

Ye-tracklist

There are no big radio-friendly tracks on THE LIFE OF PABLO. There is no “Gold Digger” or “Touch the Sky” on this record. Even if you hate Kanye and despise rap if you’re a music fan you have to respect that he’s one of the only (if not the only) mainstream artist who make albums. The album as a cohesive, artistic whole has been absent from the modern music scene for nearly 10 years (give or take). But the fact that Kanye agonizes over things like track sequences on his records makes this music fan happy. Don’t listen haphazardly to THE LIFE OF PABLO, instead take it track by track as God…I mean Kanye intended. Then when you’re done go online and seek out the endless stream of “I Love Kanye” remixes that have mushroomed all over the Internet.

I had to torrent this album, which is a real bummer. Hopefully something will change and THE LIFE OF PABLO will become commercially available in a wider-release. Though his mental state may be deteriorating, West’s ability to create intricate, interesting music is only getting stronger.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Music Streaming Gods Giveth and Taketh Away…

Music streaming has been in the headlines this week in a big, big way. I’m sure you’re all aware that Apple threw their proverbial hat into the music streaming business this week with the launch of their new Apple Music service. Everything that I’ve heard about this service sounds a bit underwhelming. I’ve been with Spotify for so long now that Apple really needed something speculator to get my business. And despite what many pre-teens might think, Taylor Swift isn’t that spectacular thing. I get that Swift is the biggest thing in music right now (or whatever) and that she is one of the few acts still selling records, but her exclusivity on Apple’s Music service isn’t what I needed to sway me into changing.

I’m an Apple fan, but I don’t like how restrictive they are when it comes to the music  you buy from them. On top of that, I think the iTunes store is way overpriced, so I’m very reluctant to hop into bed with an Apple Music streaming service. I hope that Spotify can weather the storm and remain competitive. I’m glad that the music streaming field is widening, however I worry about splintering. The thought of many artists only being on one exclusive service is worrisome–how long will it be before fans will need several paid subscriptions just to have access to the bands they want?

I also worry about songs and/or bands vanishing overnight without notice. This has happened a few times with a couple of smaller bands that I like on Spotify, but this week there were two major cataclysms in the Spotify music library.  The Music Streaming Gods giveth and then taketh away! On Tuesday AC/DC showed up on Spotify! I love AC/DC and was luck enough to see them on their last tour a few years ago (when they were supporting BLACK ICE). Sadly, I’ve never really delved too far into their catalog–mostly because it was so hard to find electronically. I’ve been binge-listening to the older, Bon Scott-era albums that I’m not as familiar with as I should be (it’s all really great).

These minstrels will soothe my jangled nerves...

These minstrels will soothe my jangled nerves…

Of course, to maintain balance in the streaming universe, Prince decided to pull all of his music from every streaming service imaginable. This hit me much harder than you might expect. Last year, after he performed on Saturday Night Live, I fell head-over-heels in love with his latest album ART OFFICIAL AGE. Believe it or not, this was probably my most-played record from last year. It’s a big hit in my household, with even the musically fickle Mrs. Defending Axl Rose enjoying the hell out of the Purple One’s most recent album.

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 6.47.14 AM

I’d been toying with the idea of writing a review of ART OFFICIAL AGE for several months, but something always seemed to get in the way. I’ve purchased exactly one CD this year, The Darkness’ latest album THE LAST OF OUR KIND, but I‘m seriously considering heading down to my local record shop and picking up ART OFFICIAL AGE just because it bums me out that I no longer have access to it. Is that part of Prince’s plan? Tease us all with his music and then take it away so we all rush out to buy it? Maybe. Is he perhaps jealous of Taylor Swift, who’s decision to leave Spotify was (weirdly) a huge news-making event? I certainly hope he isn’t waiting for Apple to cut him a similar exclusive-deal. Prince has gone to war against the Internet in the past, last year he wiped all of his music from YouTube (a pretty impressive feat if you think about it). I hope these shenanigans are making Prince a shit-ton of money, because I think it may end up costing him most (all?) of his cultural relevance. By disappearing from the Internet, Prince could end up vanishing from history. Think about it, if kids today can’t watch his videos on YouTube or stream his music…does Prince exist for them? I don’t think he does.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Over-thinking Taylor Swift’s “Mean”

So that wacky country music has been getting under my skin again.  I’m still hearing “Red Solo Cup” about three times too many during my work-day, but that’s not what I’m going to complain about today.  Today I’m picking on Taylor Swift.  I don’t know why I like picking on country music, it’s like kicking a puppy–it’s easy to do but only psychopaths really get any pleasure out of it.

I guess I’m a psychopath.

I’ve heard “Mean” a few times (and seen the video) but it wasn’t until last week that I’d figured out why I loath this song.  You see, this song is pretty much the epitome of everything that is wrong with modern country music.  The song is Swift’s response to her critics (uh, like…who is that? Who is picking on Taylor Swift so much that she needs to write a song about it? Other than fat, nerdy bloggers, I mean).  Does she call them heartless bastards? Does she use an elaborate metaphor to cut them like a knife, while at the same time show them what a class act she is?

If only...

No. She calls them “mean.”  And even though that’s really stupid and childish, that’s not the problem that I have with this song*. No, my problem with this song is the line that says: “Someday I’ll be living in a big old city/And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.”  I cringe every single time she says that.  I sit, hunched over my desk at work and GRIND my teeth to dust with rage.  What a moron.  Does she understand what the hell she’s doing?  This song is a complete and utter slap to the face of all that is country.

Country music isn’t about how great the fucking city is.  It’s about horses, beer, wide-open spaces, and outlaws. It’s about lovin’ your woman and standing by your man.  People from the city are lost souls, lonely and out of touch with themselves and each other. The city is not a shining oasis, it’s a place to be despised.  At best, city dwellers should be pitied.  This, my friends, is what is wrong with country music today. Country music today is being made by city people.  For Taylor Swift, the city represents a way to escape some unnamed bully (who can’t “hit” her anymore) but that’s not how I see it.  I see it as yet another chapter in the war for the very soul of America.

It’s the Federalists vs. the Jeffersonians.  It’s agrarian vs. industrial.  It’s trees vs. paper money.  Country music used to be about THE country, it used to present an idealized version of rural America that appealed to people in both the city and the country**.  But today country music is nothing more than shitty rock with a twang.  It doesn’t speak to anyone or have anything unique to say.  Good country music, like good rap music, should seem to only speak to both a very specific segment of the population WHILE at the same time appeal to a wider audience because of it’s universal themes.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think all country musicians should stay neatly packed into a box or preconceptions and cliches.  I think it’s fine to rebel and say “screw the country I’m gonna hit it big and move to the city,” but that’s not what Swift’s song is saying.  If you really listen, the message of “Mean” is “you are a mean asshole so all you’re ever going to do is live out in the country.”

But I ask you: what the hell is wrong with living in the country?  It pisses me off that a popular country audience has had so much success with a song that’s essential a big middle finger to a large portion of her audience.  I’m not really mad at Taylor Swift, I’m mad at her fans who are too stupid to see what a sham this song is.  It bums me out to think of little kids–living the country AND the city–listening to rich phonies like Taylor Swift.  What about the people being abused (or whatever the song is a bit vague) in the city? Is there a special ghetto in the cities for urban meanies? The message is confusing.

Ultimately when I hear this song at work it’s the words of the late, great poet Freddie Mercury that I turn to: “Now they say your folks are telling you/Be a super star/But I tell you just be satisfied/To stay right where you are.”

*Though I can’t imagine a 60 year-old Taylor Swift singing this song, it’s barely appropriate for a 20-something woman.
**which is actually a really dirty, bleak place with just as many problems as the cities.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,
Advertisements