Review Summary: The album I always wanted Tyler, The Creator to make, until he made it.
It's hard to know where to start on this one. Really, I don't know what to make of CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
at all. Should I start by saying it's a bizarre experience, to enjoy the majority of the songs on an album that I'm thoroughly disappointed by as a whole? That's probably too harsh, or my expectations on the cohesion front were set way too high by Tyler, The Creator's past, a burden it may be unfair to place on every LP he chooses to release. But I feel this way about the damn thing nevertheless – what's the point in acting otherwise?
Let's start from the top again. I'll lead with some positives - CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
slaps, in the true, down-and-dirty hip-hop-head sense. The beats are trunk-rattling, filthy foot-stompers, the guests deliver the heat (Lil Wayne and Domo Genesis damn near showing up the whole album with their features), and most importantly: Tyler is rapping the fucking house down. It's been a while, right? IGOR
's fragile, heartfelt narrative didn't leave a lot of room for pure rap; you'd have to go back to 2018 loosies "POTATO SALAD" or "TIPTOE" to find T spitting bars as furiously as he does here. People were wondering if Tyler was ever as good a rapper as he is producer/director/composer extraordinaire, and the performer on CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
clearly stepped in the booth hungry to prove that he was. There's frequent flow switches, multi-syllabic rhyme schemes, a 7-minute near-unbroken torrent of bars which ranks as the greatest rapping he's committed to tape (and goddamn, I'll get to that song later). This is undoubtedly his best work on a technical level, 50 minutes and change of thrilling hardcore heat. So why is it so damn unsatisfying?
Call it the burden of expectations, but the music reviewer in me still expects Tyler albums to feel like... albums. Flower Boy
excelled at weaving disparate threads into a satisfying tapestry; even Wolf
encourages you to make allowances for its filler with an interesting narrative. Then there's the fact that Tyler is, by far, the best self-advertiser in the business: when we all first learned about CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
, I was almost more excited for the new era of videos, easter eggs and teasers than I was for the damn music. I wasn't let down there: gorgeous grainy film stock, Wes Anderson-worshipping cinematography, a hilarious skit called "BROWN SUGAR SALMON", it was all I could want from a New Tyler Era™. This new aesthetic promises a lot, a globetrotting adventure with detours into surreal comedy and lovestruck meanderings, Tyler with a chip on his shoulder to prove he can spit with the best of them powering it all. What it delivers is a bunch of songs with little to no relation to one another, barring the fact that they were presumably recorded somewhat concurrently.
In total fairness, this feeling is clearly by design. From the frequent (and ear-grating) DJ Drama interjections, short nasty songs and blown-out, aggressive mix, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
is trying to conjure the spirit of a certain breed of 2000s mixtape. It does a better job of doing this than, say, Kendrick Lamar's DAMN
, but that doesn't make it a less frustrating choice. Why model albums after mixtapes instead of, y'know, just dropping a mixtape? It's particularly egregious coming from Tyler, who in the second half of his career has become one of the best at putting together a capital-A Album. Plus it's not like the material here isn't crying out for a more careful hand in sequencing: most of these tracks seem borne from the fallout of the events described in "WILSHIRE", whether directly ("WUSYANAME", "SWEET", "CORSO") or in tone and emotional landscape (the more T talks about being fearless and blessed, the more one starts to wonder what it is he's avoiding saying). With some careful editing and a couple of rewrites, it's not hard to imagine the album that could have been.
But let's talk about "WILSHIRE" now, because fucking jesus, what a song
. My first instinct was to simply call it the best in his discography, and frankly it's not far off: eight-and-a-half minutes of volcanic, vitriolic honesty, like an emotional faucet in Tyler just burst and he kept spitting until the story was done. It's such a phenomenal achievement I can almost ignore all its problems: how it sounds like the centrepiece of an album that doesn't exist; how the panning in the right channel is so loud my ear hurts when I play it with headphones; how the mixtape format culminates in "WILSHIRE" being bookended by the faceless "JUGGERNAUT" and the anti-climactic throwback bait "SAFARI". That's the heart of the issue, really: Tyler is rapping better than ever, but his artistic instincts have regressed beyond reason. There's a fundamental disconnect in an album that follows the complex, beautiful emotional bloodletting of "WILSHIRE" with a song featuring a deeply unfortunate r-slur, and this album simply isn't fleshed-out enough to convincingly engage with the emptiness that disconnect leaves.
So what are we left with? A good-to-great set of songs, that would make a fire mixtape if you cut the energy-draining bores "RUNITUP" and "I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE"? A half-finished classic album, powered by reckless abandon and thrilling energy, but too scattershot to make it over the finish line? It's both, and neither, and I don't know, man. I should probably just turn reviewer brain off and enjoy the bars - although it's hard when the fader during Domo's verse on "MANIFESTO" seems to be randomly jumping up and down with no volume control. CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
is too busy shooting itself in the foot and calling it coming down to earth to be complete, but following along with its fragmented course down is still an exercise worth engaging in. Gimme a few more listens, Tyler, and maybe I'll be able to keep pace with you.