Life is precious, we found out
It's been only three days since we first properly heard The Life of Pablo. It seems like so much more, right? The general reception to it seems to have drastically changed on many occasions, getting pulled towards reverence or derision with each new review or tweet. And with the final definitive retail version still to come, could we even call the album complete? Like, this is the sort of persistent support that feels more appropriate for an MMO than an album, I guess really showing that this is The Life of Pablo, not like, The Single Day of Pablo or whatever.
It's been one year and four days since we first heard "Wolves" being played over the speakers of Yeezy Season One. Since then, it has remained my strongest lifeline to the album; that is, when I thought about how excited I was for the new Kanye album, the focal point of my fantasy was "Wolves", was hearing a CDQ of "Wolves", and many other tracks of the quality of "Wolves". And although I have risen above the fickle internet in my constant support of TLOP from day one (this is what passes for achievement for me, so let me have it), I had one big complaint: he changed "Wolves"!!
The big additions to the TLOP version - a new Kanye verse and Frank Ocean's haunting outro - were nice, sure. Kanye's verse contains "You left your fridge open, somebody just took a sandwich" which is both chilling in context and a situation from Curb Your Enthusiasm out of context. He brings the album's greater themes of God vs. temptation and providing for your family into one intimate image of his children, wrapped in lambs' wool, surrounded by wolves. It's a powerful conclusion to the album (minus the "bonus tracks"-esque finale), one that I wouldn't trade for anything. And knowing how the rest of the album played out thematically and tonally, I understand that Sia and Vic's parts don't fit in as well... but still! When I first heard it, I was filled with despair! I thought I'd never hear the original "Wolves"! I thought I'd be forever cursed by all the little imperfections of the Season One cellphone recording... the muddled bass, the clipping that rears up so harshly 6 seconds in, the applause 3 minutes in... all so familiar to me after a year of listening that they almost became beloved.
But no! No! Using sources and methods unknown, a legitimate CDQ of the original "Wolves" has somehow emerged! Was this intended to be the "fixed" version alluded to on twitter? Was this a planned GOOD Friday extra? Who knows who knows! I never want off Kanye's Wild Ride! Kanye's verse is gone, which is a loss, but now the track is unified in the original message. The Frank Ocean part is now shifted to the beginning, a change I probably would have protested at first - the silence before he comes in at the end of the TLOP version is so amazing!! - but it works wonderfully as a chilling harbinger of the aesthetic world we immerse ourselves into.
And what is that world? I still remember so clearly the impression I had when I first heard it... That after the excesses and successes of his career so far, Kanye was now adrift in some transcendent, but vulnerable, space... raging himself into some new bleak wilderness... too wild, too wild. "If your mama knew how you turned out" is one of the most brutal lines he's ever delivered, something that gets more and more painful the more you let it dwell in you. The contrast between Kanye's raw despair and Vic's more encouraging voice seems to speak to an internal conflict... the desire for salvation raging against the collected tempter, who admits that he's "just bad for you"...
Oh man and then Sia's part, oh my god... I'm not a huge Sia fan by any stretch, I mean, I think "Chandelier" is a sick song, but at 1.1 BILLION views, who doesn't? She just seems to represent another "side" to pop music that, although in many ways similar to the stuff I listen to, functions differently in a key, fundamental, omnipresent way. For lack of a better term, it's the "country twang". Do you know what I mean? It's almost more of an accent or something, but it seems to inform a lot of stylistic choices that I associate with it... It's probably a way of appealing to certain demographics too... I dunno, it's very mysterious and maybe entirely in my head. Usually it's just sort of a minor disinterest feeling, like noticing stuff in Taylor Swift music that does nothing for me. But sometimes I feel an acute awareness of it in a way that can be very profound, when I see some glimpse of the "other side"... I talked about this when I talked about "Goose Eggs", the "sonder" feeling that accompanies something that you know has significance for the "other side".
And oh man oh man, when Sia's part comes in, not only is it that "whole other world" feeling, and it's her singing about her own individual story that lead her to the same emotional place as Kanye/Vic, but it's on a Kanye song, it's a Kanye beat, and I completely love it, such that when she gets to that chilling "amongst the yellow eyes", I feel like I've crossed over, that I've felt the full weight of the... HEY WAIT that line got cut from this version! ALSO there's a weird super quiet "honking" sound like at 3:11 HA HA bet you can't unhear that! WELP, looks like it's back to the Season 1 cellphone recording for me!