Tyler, The Creator – Goblin
Tyler, The Creator – Goblin
The snowballing success of Tyler, The Creator (along with the rest of his underground rap collective OFWGKTA) is both baffling and unsurprising. On one hand, Tyler’s material is so confrontational and vulgar, it would seem to limit its audience. On the other hand, Tyler’s material is so confrontational and vulgar that it’s bound to appeal to the thousands who want to revel in the shock value like kids sneaking into an R-rated movie. (How do you think Eminem initially broke through?) But since his first album, Bastard, dropped in 2009, buzz slowly grew, and then all of the sudden countless magazines, newspapers and blogs capitalized on the new sensation, fascinated by the controversial teenager. The only one who seemed openly ambivalent about his success was Tyler himself, and his long-awaited second album, Goblin, is rife with anxiety over his growing fame and hype.
Like his previous record, Goblin is framed as a self-therapy session, but this time around, Tyler takes it to heart and is much more introspective and confessional. On the revealing title track, for instance, he’s disillusioned with his success, feeling the pressure of expectations and backlash (“Can’t they just be happy for me? Like, a kid with nothing living out his dreams?”). More importantly, though, is how he approaches his darker subject matter. On Bastard, he was rarely ambiguous about what stories of his were true, but on Goblin he sets the record completely straight, even explicitly saying “it’s fucking fiction” on a “disclaimer” that precedes “Radicals.” Elsewhere, Tyler makes sure to let the listener know when he is playing a character, be it Dracula on “Transylvania” or one of his evil alter egos on “Tron Cat.” Listening to him spell everything out has the effect of rendering these stories much sillier since they lack the bite of a matter-of-fact narrative. This wouldn’t be a problem if his writing was still as sharp, but his forays into dark fantasy—”Tron Cat,” “Fish,” especially the tedious “Bitch Suck Dick”—are rather uninspired with only a few memorable lines emerging from what otherwise sound like leftovers from Bastard. Only the over-the-top black humor of “Transylvania” and the transgressive anthem “Radicals” break through the mold since Tyler embraces the ridiculous on the former and provides some insight on the latter. Interestingly, Goblin is at its best when Tyler strays away from his bread and butter. The demented breakthrough single “Yonkers” is still the most instantly memorable thing here, full of clever turns of phrase, while the surprisingly sweet “Analog” and the honest love story “Her” show signs of maturity. The ambitious final tracks stretch the therapist concept to something resembling a rap opera, leading up to the frightening conclusion “Golden,” where his disillusionment turns into nihilistic anger.
Musically, he’s also more diverse than on Bastard, which helps to move things along when the album begins to sag. Tyler still creates seductive Neptunes-inspired productions, but just like his lyrics, his music shines when he reaches further, whether it be the spooky title track or the grinding “Yonkers.” Meanwhile, “She” and “Fish” dip into R&B, and the great “Nightmare” provides some pensive glockenspiel over the chorus. Tyler even saves time for an synth-string instrumental towards the end (“AU79”). There’s a lot to listen to here, both in the music and words, and Goblin takes at least a handful of listens to crack. Regardless, the album simply doesn’t hold together as well as Bastard since many of the mediocre tracks fall in the middle, sucking out the momentum. The flashes of brilliance here, however, suggest that if Tyler steps out of his comfort zone a bit more, he will be able to create the towering statement of purpose he yearns to make.