After hours of live streaming, a very expensive merchandise line and a parade of Hollywood elites, Kanye West’s long-awaited eighth studio album has been released to a resounding ‘meh’.
The artist’s flurry of controversial Twitter posts earlier in the year was the signal the album was on its way.
His comments about slavery and mental health all but confirmed the star’s trademark approach to publicity was in full swing.
The album cover (a mountainous landscape photo that his wife, Kim Kardashian West, says he took at the last minute) is emblazoned with the phrase “I hate being Bi-Polar, it’s awesome” in neon-green lettering.
Kanye shot the album cover on his iPhone on the way to the album listening party 😂🔥❤️🔥🙏🏼🔥
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) June 1, 2018
The slogan may confirm what many had long suspected: that Kanye struggles with mental health issues. It may even be a cathartic ‘coming out’ for the 40-year-old musician and fashion designer.
Even so, critics are unimpressed. ‘More of the same’, ‘Trump-like’ and ‘chauvinistic’ are just some of the bad reviews.
‘The parallels between Mr West and the President were clear’
In a fairly scathing analysis for The New York Times, Jon Pareles capitalises on Kanye’s recent alignment with US President Donald Trump.
“Both exult in fame and wealth and put feelings before facts. And both use contradictory pronouncements to cover all bases,” he says, noting their shared penchant for womanising and selfishness.”
He continued: “On Ye, Mr West’s focus is not on America but on his all-encompassing self-absorption.”
And another zinger: “Mr West still has a streak of compassion and empathy, in the rare moments when he’s not thinking only of himself.”
‘West is on autopilot’
The Atlantic‘s critic Spencer Kornhaber also noted the Trump-esque mentality woven throughout Ye, taking particular exception to the “chauvinistic” comments Mr West makes about his daughter on the closing track Violent Crimes.
The album’s rough, jagged sound clearly came across as unfinished to Mr Kornhaber, who observed “there’s a line he appears to have forgotten to write all the words for, substituting mmms for nouns”.
You don't have to agree with trump but the mob can't make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother. I love everyone. I don't agree with everything anyone does. That's what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought.
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 25, 2018
‘Maybe we should abolish the word “genius,” or just find heroes who give a s––t.’
Meaghan Garvey’s write-up for Pitchfork is by far the most scathing review of the lot.
“…He chartered private planes for 150 or so influencers to listen by Jackson Hole campfire to seven tracks he farted out to meet his arbitrarily self-imposed deadline.” she says.
“The problem with Ye is not that it was made by an unrepentant a–hole, but that it is thoroughly, exhaustingly boring—a word I never imagined would apply to a generation’s most reliable innovator.”
Ultimately, she points to Kanye’s past as a way of seeing just how far he has fallen as an artist.
“I can admit that after Ye ended unceremoniously the third or fourth time, I put on ‘Family Business‘, and I thought about the kid from Chicago who wanted to be the biggest rapper in the world, who now lives in an empty-looking concrete mansion in Calabasas, who has stopped trying.”
‘Light and dark, ugly and beautiful’
In what could be described as an even-handed appraisal, Time critic Maura Johnston described the album as “An uneasy look at Kanye West’s life as a walking contradiction”.
Ms Johnston noted that Mr West’s overarching sentiment that he “respects women more now that [he has] daughters” is “simultaneously frustrating and a relief”.
“It wouldn’t be a Kanye album without fundamental contradictions to the very end.”
‘Curiously low-key … at least by Kanye West’s standards’
Alexis Petridis’ four-star review in The Guardian was significantly more flattering. This critic approached the contradiction and abrasion as an artistic choice.
“It feels like it’s falling apart before your very ears … sounds like the work of a mind in the process of unravelling,” he wrote, while conceding “his attitude to women could still use some work”.
Mr Petridis concluded: “It packs a lot into 23 minutes. It is bold, risky infuriating, compelling and a little exhausting: a vivid reflection of its author.”
‘You’ll hate this album, it’s awesome’
The AV Club‘s Clayton Purdom saw the album as something that would reinforce everyone’s perception of Kanye, whether that be positive or negative.
“In a way, Ye is what everyone wanted,” he wrote.
“If you’re inclined to forgive Kanye, you will, when he self-consciously reassures you, ‘I’m just being silly’ on the album’s last track.”
‘Those looking for radio-friendly rap might feel short-changed’
“It lacks the profundity of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and the audacity of 808s or [Yeezus], but there’s still something quite pleasurable in seeing Kanye West … with his guard down,” wrote Douglas Greenwood for NME, before adding: “I wish there was a little more to it.”
He added: “Ye is succinct and easy to swallow, but those aren’t necessarily the hallmarks of Kanye at the top of his game.”
‘He’s spinning his wheels, not pushing himself’
“There are moments of true, transporting beauty on Ye,” wrote Tom Breihan for Stereogum, who noted that “Ye is, transparently and obviously, an album about mental illness”.
“But there’s also a way to read Ye as West’s non-apology apology for the megalomaniacal rampage he’s been on for the past few months.”
Ultimately, even the complimentary Mr Breihan saw the album as the low point in Kanye’s musical career. His discography is “… probably the single greatest album-to-album run in rap history. It couldn’t last forever”.