With just a little more focus and creativity, Kanye West’s Ye could have been a lot more impressive; Lily Allen’s No Shame marks her powerful return to the music scene and is a marked improvement on her previous record.
Artist: Kanye West
There is something inherently frustrating about Kanye West. For someone as talented as he is, the rapper’s proclivity to being - as U.S. President Barack Obama so succinctly put it - a "jackass" has cast a shadow on his work. But it isn’t just exasperating that the ego and the divisive comments are detracting from the American artist’s undeniable musical genius. It’s just as frustrating that his talents simply aren’t being used to their full potential, as evident on his latest album, Ye, perhaps, his most intimate, but also his least satisfying creation to date.
"I hate being bi-polar, it’s awesome," Kanye has scribbled on the album’s cover, a surprisingly apt reflection on its contents. A concise statement of only 7 songs that altogether run for around 23 minutes, Ye finds Kanye sharing his thoughts, ranging from dark murderous and suicidal feelings (the sonically minimalist ‘I Thought About Killing You’) to his mental health (the standout ‘Yikes’) as well as references to his family and his media controversies from the last few months.
As always, there are soulful samples woven into these songs, plus there are uncredited appearances by artists like Kid Cudi, Ty Dolla Sign, PartyNextDoor, Jeremih, Charlie Wilson, and 070 Shake. But while his production remains solid, it is not as interesting or adventurous as you’d expect from the rapper. The result, while never not compelling, is often a bit unexciting and disappointingly uninventive for someone of Kanye’s stature. It’s all fairly "good" but it never transcends to "great". The brevity of the album makes the project seem inadequate and unable to fully delve into the complex issues at its heart, while the songs leave you with the sense that with some more work they could have made a stronger impact. With just a little more focus and creativity, Ye could have been a lot more impressive.
Highlights: ‘Yikes’, ‘Ghost Town’, ‘Violent Crimes’.
Artist: Lily Allen
Album: No Shame***1/2
A tumultuous period in her personal life has inspired the contents of Lily Allen’s fourth album, No Shame, her powerful return to the music scene and a marked improvement on her previous record, Sheezus.
The British singer offers mostly mellow reggae flavoured electro-pop with urban beats and island sounds on No Shame, using her gentle, warm voice to create tunes that may not be destined to reign the charts but still offer an affecting take on the singer’s struggles. Her substance abuse, motherhood, and failed marriage are the primary subjects of this introspective 14-song set. Allen sings about battling her addictions on first single ‘Trigger Bang’, a toned down drums and piano driven hip pop jam featuring rapper Giggs. She draws a connection between her failed marriage and her parents on the sparse ‘Apples’. And the lovely piano ballad ‘Three’, written from the perspective of one of her daughters - a child yearning to spend more time with her busy mother - is one of the most touching songs she has ever written and likely to strike a chord with all parents.
This isn’t the bright, catchy Lily Allen of the Alright, Still era. This is a jaded artist creating a cathartic record while processing the dissolution of her marriage, and while there could have been more variations in sound and tempo (and less reliance on repetitiveness in the choruses), creating an album that is not so much to be enjoyed as it is to be felt is in itself a brave move for a mainstream pop artist.
Highlights: ‘Trigger Bang’, ‘Three’, ‘Waste’.