Review Summary: Swag. Yawn.
How does one approach Goblin
? With great, great caution. Odd Future present a strange sort of intellectual minefield, inviting questions that pertain to race, gender, and youth, all while providing few answers. In the past, this general refusal to address comments regarding some of the collective's more incendiary lyrics came across as defiant and even admirable. But Tyler, the Creator, the closest thing that the self-proclaimed anarchy of OFWGKTA has to a leader, has recently been forced to field questions from increasingly high-profile journalists and industry bigwigs, and his tone has been subtly changing. In NME, Tyler declared, "I'm not homophobic. I just think 'faggot' hits and hurts people." Whether or not Tyler is aware of the inescapable connection between these two statements is still unclear, although it's obvious that his repeated usage of the slur is largely born out of his desire to shock. Now, he's being forced to explain himself, reduced to saying, "Well, I'm trying to piss people off." Uh, duh
Thing is, the moment you subject Tyler's music to such examination is the moment where you rob it of its impact. Which is why Bastard
was as successful as it was - in its insistent singularity, it was immune to criticism. If you had a problem with its abhorrent themes, you could easily be dismissed for "missing the point". On Goblin
, however, Tyler forces his listener to think more critically about what he's trying to say: "I'm not a fucking rapist or a serial killer, I lied / I tried too hard, right?" Insecurity is generally a welcome virtue in pop, but here, it comes across as unnecessary, if not insincere. And the pitched-down therapist that Tyler talks to throughout the album is utterly faceless, serving as nothing more than a simple transitional device for a patient's increasingly discombobulated utterances. This is pretty indicative of Tyler's worldview - the "powers that be" are evil as well as stupid, reduced to the adults in Charlie Brown specials, articulating little more than a pathetic "wah-wah". Such a puerile perspective works well enough in the context of Bastard
's unrestrained rage, but doesn't hold water on an album that tries to stand back and be a little more self-aware.
You could argue that Tyler's work is all introspection, his free-flowing raps acting as an unfiltered expression of the id in all its terrifying glory. But if this were really the case, this record would be a whole lot more shocking than it is. In its best moments, Goblin
isn't harrowing, but endearing. Now, of all the descriptors such a supposedly dismal album invites, “endearing” is not one of the first to come to mind. But there’s something pleasantly cute in the way Tyler and his cohorts scream “kill people, burn shit, fuck school,” over and over again. Part of this is due to the fact that there are fans out there who will take this to be a legitimate manifesto, as well as people who actually consider such a refrain to be "provocative". When Tyler tries on darker hues, he too often falls flat, his penchant for irreverence colliding with his conscious efforts to antagonize. While the greater variety in lyrical content makes Goblin
a more "layered" (in the most literal sense of the word) album than its predecessor, it also gives the record an unfocused quality that highlights the countless contradictions of Tyler as an artist. Here is somebody who wants to be taken seriously, but doesn't want people to take his work at face value.
Therein lies the fundamental problem with Goblin
- it's unconfident. For all its bravado, there's very little substance here; potent lines like the already-hallowed "I'm a fucking walking paradox (no I'm not)" are followed, almost immediately, by inanities like the disclaimer that opens "Radicals": "Don't do anything that I say in this song, okay? It's fucking fiction." Which could very well be intentional - after all, Tyler is most compelling when he's goofing off, basking in the glow of his elaborately wild façade. Similarly, Goblin
is most enjoyable when its surface is immediately appealing - standout cuts like "Yonkers", "She", "AU79", and "Tron Cat" possess appealingly sparse yet propulsive beats and display Tyler's acute ear for detail. But dig a little deeper and you'll find empty self-reference ("Sandwitches" is filled with halfhearted references to the social media that helped Odd Future make its meteoric rise in the first place) alongside some truly atrocious songs (uh, "Fish"), leaving us with an album that, despite its occasional flashes of excellence, accomplishes the rare feat of feeling both overblown and flaccid. In one of the album's most telling moments, Tyler asks, "I'm not that great of a rapper but as a whole, I'm pretty cool, right?" To which one can only answer: sure, I guess. But that's hardly enough to carry the overambitious and undercooked Goblin