I used to say that I’d spend 6 months of each year obsessed with music, and six months completely detached. Then that became more of a 3/9 split in favour of disinterestedness. Now, it’s amazing if I spend a solid week a year thinking about, researching, writing about or bloody listening to new music. And it takes almost nothing to get me all disillusioned again.
The last time I took my ball and went home was over The Life of Pablo. A bit of context: I felt like I’d been fighting a seven year battle (since the stupid Taylor Swift thing… I mean, the first stupid Taylor Swift thing) defending Kanye as an artist against people completely incapable of separating the person from the product, or people unwilling to see hip-hop or even pop as art in the first place. (I can’t believe we’re still having that argument 30 years after Paid In Full.)
Through all the Kardashian bullshit, the second Swift saga, the Glasonbury appearance, the Bill Cosby stupidity, the Wiz Khalifa feud, the seemingly endless stream of ageing white men – Billy Corgan, David Crosby, Brian McFadden, Liam Gallagher, Corey Taylor – being dragged out to hate on him, I stuck to my guns. This was a guy who had revolutionised a genre not once but twice, who had made at least four all time classic records, a voracious mind who absorbs the aesthetics of everything from Le Corbusier lamps to Chicago drill to Jodorowsky movies. (Fun story: West apparently went out of his way for a chance to meet Jodo, who… had no idea who he was, but read his tarot for him anyway.)
Then Life of Pablo dropped and… I didn’t get it. It wasn’t a triumph of abrasive minimalism like Yeezus or luxurious maximalism like MBDTF. It wasn’t a gospel- or string arrangement-fuelled game changer like The College Dropout. It had a lot of… stuff. Stuff that didn’t seem to gel or hang together all that well. The production was no longer meticulous – at times, it was downright messy. It also featured second-raters like Ty Dolla Sign, who would never have been on Kanye’s finely honed radar five years ago, but who West met at a Kylie Jenner party. (He’s since collaborated with the completely unremarkable Tyga, Jenner’s boyfriend – further evidence for the theory that being part of that family of worthless vampires is actively withering Kanye’s talents and judgement.)
He then committed the annoying act of recalling TLoP, tinkering with it further, and reissuing it, meaning there are at least two Life of Pablos (Lives of Pablo?) out there. That probably annoyed me more than it should have. One of the best samples on the record was of Arthur Russell, a man notorious for incessant revision of his music and leaving everything unfinished – it would be too easy to make the comparison with West himself, who claimed to have spent 5,000 hours on Power, a 1 minute 42 second track. I should give TLoP another chance – but I’m an old man (28) now, and I don’t understand Tidal.
I also don’t understand how it is that I still think of Untrue by Burial, the last contemporary artist I really proselytised for (back when anything labelled dub-step was automatically considered to be the work of Satan) as being cutting edge when it came out nearly ten years ago. I listened to it yesterday, and it… hasn’t dated that well. I think copycatting has a lot to do with it – I’m looking at you, Synkro.
But back in 2007, when I was reading about hauntology and futurist musicology and spectral ambient in the backpages of Dr Sleepless by Warren Ellis, this album was everything . Now it’s just the Millennial version of dad-rock.
Same with everything else we used to love, everything that was once fresh and new and bleeding edge. We grew up on Radiohead, the Marshall Mathers LP, Dre’s 2001, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Joanna Newsom, Iron & Wine, Devandra Banhart, Sigur Ros, LCD Soundsystem, Cat Power, Hot Chip, Portishead, Animal Collective, Wilco and Kanye. This was the stuff we used to hold up when the Boomers said “music today is shit.” Now, people are fucking nostalgic about the Arctic fucking Monkeys. People get all watery eyed about The Strokes – “remember when Is This It came out and everything was going to be OK?”
And the kids are listening to J Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Young Thug, Beach House, Adele, A$AP Rocky, Drake, Flying Lotus, Sun Kil Moon, Frank Ocean, and Tame Impala – not your post-rock, g-funk, freak-folk, hauntological crap, grandad. Get with the times.