Review Summary: A peaks and valleys affair for sure, but no matter where you end up, the view is unmistakably Tyler's.6 of 6 thought this review was well written
Tyler's always had a bit of a problem with editing -- the abrasive, unlikeable clang that was 2011's Goblin ran nearly 74 minutes long, and even 2009's considerably more approachable Bastard clocked in at just a few minutes short of 60 -- but never has it been more apparent than here. Maybe it's the pacing; but for as often as this album's jarring mood shifts and meandering, sloppily executed downtempo cuts slow it down, you'd think that, at the very least, the critical response to it would be somewhat more impassioned than a few congratulatory nods and some laughable Sade comparisons, especially when considering the weighty tomes these same critics have devoted to the intricacies and implications that it's primary lyrical concepts reveal. But alas, that's the position Wolf
finds itself in, and in many ways, Tyler only has himself to blame for it.
Yes, it's true: he's cut back on his violent, misogynistic rape/murder narratives and replaced them with raps about his arsenal of bimmers, his four story house, and about how eating that one tiny cockroach on the Yonkers video single-handedly catapulted him from "broke internet rapper no one gives a shit about" to "disgustingly rich internet rapper that 15 year old kids give a shit about." And yes, as advertised, he did bulldoze what was left of his old bleep-synth aesthetic and rebuild it into a kind of undercooked, seasick, sleaze-"jazz" monster, as if to somehow signify to the critics that yes, he has indeed begun his transition into an adult contemporary post-adolescence ala Kenny G. And that would be all well and good, except for one glaring issue: when you really give Wolf
more than a passing glance, it becomes strikingly apparent that if Tyler's gone through any sort of maturation at all over these past few years, it's only in a business sense. There is no resounding musical, lyrical, or thematic development here, folks. It's the same old tricks, the same old concepts, the same old insatiable desire to be the edgiest Tyler that Tyler can possibly be -- just this time, it's been skewed and seasoned and injected with hormones and passed on to you fresh out of the microwave, in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, you won't remember that bitter taste lurching underneath it all.
Is that entirely fair? Probably not. After all, he does occasionally try his hand at new things here. You have M.I.A. inspired electro-dancehall-trap weirdness bubbling up to the surface on Tamale, for example, and a real, honest to god R&B hook (courtesy of Frank Ocean, and not like those bullshit "hooks" he occasionally peppered Goblin and Bastard with) mixed up into 48's creaky, church organ atmosphere -- hell, there's even a little bit of Chicago drill-type madness leaking through on Trashwang (although it's much less menacing, and as a result, much shittier). But those occasional flashes of inspired musical experimentation and non-rape-based storytelling mean nothing when Tyler still falls back hard on every other old lyrical crutch in his arsenal, and when you pair that up with the Pharrell-backed big-budget production wizardry going on sneakily in the background, it starts to become obvious what this so called "progression" really is. Make no mistake, it's no maturation -- just a flashier, more expensive version of what Tyler's been doing ever since he first began throwing together basement beats at the tail end of the aughts: making kid-like approximations of his favorite Neptunes songs and repackaging them with a "controversial" spin. Yawn.
And as if slogging through 9 tracks of that wasn't bad enough, the concepts themselves just get more and more convoluted the longer it goes on, and you, the listener, are forced to continually bear witness to Tyler's complete inability to see them through. Time and time again you're forced to sit there helplessly and watch as the album outlines its ambitious goals for each track, only to then experience it --and it is an experience -- botch every excruciating fucking second of its execution in the most laughably overblown ways possible. Indeed, it fails so miserably and so often that you'd sooner execute yourself just to get it to stop. Take, for example, the album's centerpiece, "Patyisntover/Campfire/Bimmer". Yes, technically
it's a 7 minute, three part rap suite roughly in the same vein as fellow OF contributor Frank Ocean's "Pyramids", but the final product is essentially three underwhelming song sketches haphazardly (and seemingly arbitrarily) stitched together into one sluggish, Frankenstein like abomination of a track, without even so much as basic transitions to carry the listener between segments. Yes, "Answer" is more poignant than most of Tyler's Bastard-era pontifications on not knowing his father, and it might've even been a standout track had it actually appeared on that record, but here, it's simply a tiresome retreading of old ground. And sure, "48" sees Tyler experimenting with his storytelling abilities ala Nas with a tale told from the perspective of a conscious-plagued crack-dealer, but when it's all said and done, he winds up sounding less like a weathered, exasperated drug-war statistic and more like someone who's only exposure to the crack epidemic -- or lyricism -- was through Justin Timberlake's Losing My Way.
Now, is every flaw really so big that it rips patchwork into the fabric of the entire project? On their own, not really -- but when he brings in a multitude of guests and has them lay down hooks and do production and spit guest verses on a hefty number of the tracks he's supposed to take precedence on, it exacerbates them ferociously, and above all else it really just ends up highlighting how amateur Tyler is even in comparison to the people he surrounds himself with.
And even over the course of one song, this might be forgivable -- but when that same motif consistently reappears over and over again over the course of the album's entire hour-plus runtime, it really starts to get chip away at any of the positives you might've walked away from this thing trumpeting. Come on Tyler; is it really all that much to ask that, if you're not going to exceed, you at least meet the standards your otherwise-lackluster peers have set for you on your own record?
Is it? Because, I mean, fuck -- I'm not even entirely convinced it isn't. I'm not even entirely convinced that Tyler cares about making conventionally "good" albums, or even about making albums that are meant to be consumed by people other than himself. The overarching "story" (and I use the term loosely) linking Bastard, Goblin, and Wolf together only cements that fact further for me: while presented as a kind of three-part mock-therapy session that for some reason eventually unravels into a retarded labyrinthine of split personality disorder and bullying-fueled mass murder, what it comes across to me as is essentially an audio transcription of a seven year old playing with his action figures. And not even just because it's juvenile -- listening to this nonsensical, paper-thin, and deeply self-centered plot unfold feels like a straight up fucking violation of this person's privacy. It feels like I'm eavesdropping on my little brother. It's fucking uncomfortable
. But what does that mean for Wolf as a whole?
Well, it's complicated. What it means is that it essentially co-exists in the same plane of existence as Kanye West's 808s and Heartbreak, and when taken from that angle, I find it pointless to critique. It's shitty, sure -- but it's such a heavy, personal kind of shitty that, even if it things had turned out better from a technical standpoint, I doubt the experience would've felt much less sour or voyeuristic. Ultimately, Wolf is just not a record that's made for us, plain and simple. You, me, the label, the Billboard charts, the radio DJs -- regardless of whether we enjoy it, we're still just spectators to this awful, weird little game of back-yard wrestling, watching a possibly autistic seven year old bodyslam his Goku figurine into an intricately assembled Hot Wheels track from behind a closed glass door, cheering on each neandertholic development as some kind of mind-bending revelation to be cherished, worshiped, and rewound, even when we know it's not. In the end, whether we're there, whether we're gone, whether we're singing his praises, or whether we're laughing at his album and calling him a fucking retard -- it makes no difference to Tyler, and it has no bearing on the work he eventually creates. He doesn't hear us. He never could. And to convince ourselves otherwise? It's missing the point.
I just wonder if he's ever going to grow up.