More than a month after its release, Kanye West’s ‘The Life Of Pablo’ is still undergoing edits, the latest of which – to ‘Wolves’ – appeared today (March 16) more than a month after he tweeted, “Ima fix wolves”. New to the mix are Vic Mensa and Sia (who were assumed to appear on the original anyway, after they played it with him on SNL) and it does, now, sound finished. But why’s he still interfering with his album? There are several ways to view it.
Cynics would posit that Kanye was never really ready to release ‘The Life Of Pablo’ on February 11 – the deadline he’d set himself for his Yeezy Season 3 show and simultaneous album launch – and was bold enough to release unmastered demos to the world (eh Kendrick), knowing that he would later come back to edit them and sign off each one as ‘finished’.
Even more embittered cynics, meanwhile, have noticed that the new changes are arriving a month on from release – the same as the Tidal trial period – meaning those that signed up to hear ‘TLOP’ for free will now have to pay to hear the latest versions of tracks like ‘Wolves’ and ‘Famous’. And quite honestly, it could also be a Tidal membership-pushing gambit.
But those more forgiving among us will also see this new approach as characteristically innovative of the Chicagoan 38-year-old. Look at any app and you’ll see quality updates: versions 1.1, 1.2 and so on. Depressingly 2016 as that analogy sounds, you get the feeling Kanye could be on to something similar – a way to revitalise (and yes, monetise) music that would otherwise fade out of the cultural conversation.
Remastering isn’t really a new concept, but updating an album so soon into its release is unprecedented. It makes it virtually impossible to review, given that it’s always changing (we deemed it “hyper-realistic, cokey and constantly second-guessing its audience” back in February) but his vision of the album as a “living, breathing, changing creative expression” turns ‘TLOP’ into more of an artistic dialogue than a concrete piece of work. Who knows when he’ll be done with it.
It benefits Kanye – people are focusing on ‘TLOP’ again despite the thunder-stealing surprise album from Kendrick Lamar, ‘untitled unmastered’ – but it’s also beneficial to faithful listeners. It’s fascinating to witness him polishing what might now be considered demo versions – give it a year and all 19 tracks might all have new faces. His refusal to call something complete might look a little cowardly (“Don’t judge, I’m still working on it” he could be saying) but on the other hand he’s giving a new life to his music, and that’s pretty exciting.