Review Summary: Stabbin' any bloggin hipster with a Pitchfork? Get at me, Tyler.
The key to liking Goblin
is taking Tyler seriously. It’s tempting to not do this; it’s too uncomfortable to accept Tyler’s psychotic rants at face value, as the real content of his subconscious coming through his unsettling, disjointed rambles. Songs about rape, murder, homophobia, and suicide aren’t casual. Can’t bump to this shit
, man. So, on Bastard
, there were reasons invented to negotiate with the initial moral imperative to reject him despite his songs being so fuck
ing good. We said shock value, that he was saying what he was saying to fuck
with White America, and that was amusing/awesome in itself. It’s all fine if it’s ironic, right? Swag?
To take Tyler seriously is to see his brilliantly twisted brain splattered on the walls of Goblin
’s haunted halls. The sight isn’t pretty; there’s more rape, threats, fuck
s, suicides and faggots than there were on Bastard
, almost to the point where they become suffocating. As conditioned cynics of the twenty-first century, we can easily read this wreckage as a demented, raw upstart becoming the inevitable parody of himself, Tyler flaming out, his joke getting old. But isn’t it weird that Goblin
doesn’t let us in on the joke? He says we’re not supposed to take it seriously, but the shocking bits, such as the narrative of “Golden” and Tyler’s late album meltdown, are a little too horrifying here, too well calculated, too unnerving to have the discomfort totally quelled by the obligatory track where Jasper and Taco get to be annoying twats. One might say that it’s tougher to enjoy Goblin
than it was to enjoy Bastard
, which is true. But Goblin
, though it lacks mystery, is certainly as interesting an album, if not moreso.
is a mammoth. At seventy four minutes, it’s in dire need of an editor. It infuses its more unremarkable songs with extended skits that attempt to intimately chronicle Tyler’s devolution into schizophrenia, resulting in five 5+ minute epics. The ambitious length is exemplary of the intense pressure on Tyler after his meteoric rise to produce a masterpiece, an issue he also addresses with Dr. TC on the eponymous opening track. Tyler succeeds in his appointed task, in a way; Goblin
is a flawed masterpiece, a product of Tyler’s ego allowed and presumably encouraged to speak without filter. He ups the sincerity of Bastard
, adding multiple dimensions to the two-sided Tyler of 2009; on Goblin
, the introspective troublemaker that made “Bastard” and “Inglorious” becomes a suicidal threat and the goofball who made “French” becomes the more imaginatively offensive “Tron Cat.” These exaggerations make Tyler sound almost too real to be ironic, but don’t misconstrue Goblin
’s content as failed irony; even at it's most bizarre, Goblin
is consistently honest.
Much of the Goblin
counterhype seems to stem from the theory that Tyler’s ludicrous content is a front, an expression of anxiety over baring his “real” self for fear of being much less interesting. Thus we read a song like “Radicals” as an insincere attempt at positivity, a song that lands with a fat thud without Tyler’s grain of salt. For surely Tyler, all gall and admirable naivety, following a chorus of “Kill People! Burn Shit
ck School!” with a straight faced assurance that he’s not advocating for the committing of crimes can’t be serious, right? If he is, where the hell does he get off? But remember that Odd Future and particularly Tyler’s entire aesthetic is predicated on authenticity. Without it, there is no “Free Earl,” no hype, no swag, no “fuck the police.” Without the idea that Tyler emerged from his audience of
social network usernames, he’d be unrecognizable. So the ultra hip references abound; “Yonkers” alone finds Tyler citing Adventure Time, Pitchfork, Rugrats, The Flinstones, and his vitriolic hatred of Bruno Mars, and it's not a put-on. Tyler exposes his character on the album’s first track, where he lays out his preference for Badu and Pusha-T over Immortal Technique in a response to those that’d criticize him for not being “real” enough with the defense that Goblin
’s simply “not made for them.”
And Tyler’s bizarre, spiteful relationship with his fans has, of course, seeped into the atmosphere of Goblin
. Tyler continues to threaten his army of bloggers with dismemberment and impalement. The breakout smash, “Sandwitches,” has become a song for white people who hate their privilege to scream about hating their privilege. Tyler’s not blind to the racial politics of his celebrity; as he sees it, he’s a black rapper who appeals to kids who wish they had black cultural authenticity, and he clearly doesn’t know what to do with that. On “Golden,” he wonders aloud if this phenomenon partially cheapens his success, and what makes this section uncomfortable is that it kind of does.
It has been said, if too dismissively at times, that Tyler owes a heavy debt to prime, Marshall Mathers
-era Eminem, who also self-referentially negotiated the racial politics surrounding his music a decade before there was Odd Future and Goblin
. And sure enough, Tyler’s flow in negotiating this drama sounds like Shady’s; the “Fuck
That!” that follows a rhetorical question towards the end of “Nightmare” is pure, pill-popping Em. But while Tyler strikes the same social chords as Eminem, he is not marketable like Eminem. He’s too interesting for the mainstream, and has to negotiate not the MTV audience, but the blogosphere where he’s an oddity in the more cliquey fabric of the underground hip-hop scene.
While the constraints of mainstream media let Eminem get away with “Stan” and “Kim” to give his lyrical shock value legitimacy, Tyler legitimizes Goblin
by exploiting the blogosphere’s freedom and OF adulation. And so Goblin
's beats are darkened, its narrative given a disturbing (if not entirely original) twist, and its raps are still, for the most part, fascinating. Tyler’s alter egos, impossible to keep straight unless he specifically says who’s talking, allow him the freedom to say anything he wants, which leads him to cleverly one-up his own punch lines on “Tron Cat” and “Sandwitches,” turn the video voyeur of “VCR” into the sympathetic protagonist of “She,” and on the swirling cyclone of “Transylvania,” drop primo misogynistic couplets like “Goddamn I love bitches/ especially with then they only suck dick and wash dishes.” Sure, this also leads him to record the second half of “Fish” and “Bitch Suck Dick,” the two most insufferable jokes of the album, but even these irritants are supposed to register that way. When Tyler gives Jasper and Taco their comeuppance at the end of “Bitch Suck Dick,” it’s comforting to think he does so because the song is that annoying.
Those songs are products of an ambition that hasn’t quite been tamed, but on the majority of Goblin
, Tyler genuinely uses his creative freedom to create the fantastic. There’s no need to reiterate the majesty of “Yonkers,” a song whose long months spent hype-generating make it register as almost a separate entity from Goblin
. It’s a peak, a stand-alone great track that isn’t fully a part of the album’s weave. “Sandwitches” is kind of the same way; it’s an old hit, only it more found its way onto Goblin
than is one of Goblin
’s defining singles. The real
defining tracks are the ones that make Goblin
unique, the ones where Tyler lets us in on the emotions that made the record. The title track is all meta, current enough to reference in May the response to a song that dropped in February, while “Golden” and “Nightmare” integrate the “Free Earl” narrative into unexpectedly touching raps. It's these prevalent moments that cause the supposed attempts at humor to register not as goofs but as moments symptomatic of Tyler trying to cover up the vulnerable self he exposes in Goblin
, the one who’s actually losing his shi
That’s the thing about Tyler. For all his posturing, he’s beguilingly self-aware, a captivating product of the 21st century, a kid who unabashedly claims to want fame and a Grammy yet may never get these things (if you define fame as people knowing about him outside of the internet) because he isn’t willing to censor himself. He’s taken on the role of cultural phenomenon, claims to hate his new life, yet also claims to have wanted it since he was eight. Is there tension? Of course, and it’s irresistible. Tyler isn’t exactly a simple guy. I don’t even think I can definitively give an answer to whether I think I should take this thing at face value or reject it for its amplified content. The violence of Goblin
is too prevalent to be slight, but it has to be too exaggerated to take seriously, right? No answer from Tyler; Goblin
meets in the middle, like a too-real joke about suicide or a female scream that calls attention to how you’ve been singing the chorus of an uncomfortably detailed song about voyeurism ever since you first heard it. Fuck
in’ walking paradox, man.