What kid is ever cured after their second appointment with a therapist? It’s a process that takes a lifetime of introspection, honesty, and, most importantly, a willingness to accept change into your life. Tyler, the Creator has made some small steps in the doctor’s office all while keeping his defense mechanisms raised and his aggression palpable. He opens his second LP Goblin with the lines “I’m a 19-year old fucking emotional coaster of pipe dreams” and converses on the title track with self-conscious acidity about perception, mindsets, fame, suicide, and, of course, the familiar juvenile venom OFWGTKA champions as a way of life. Undeniably, it’s Tyler’s age that carries the plot of the album to its nether reaches. All of his so-called shock and hype can be traced back to him being one talented teenager with a microphone which is a gift for him and to us. So after Goblin drags on well past the one-hour mark, after hearing several tracks that are musically and lyrically insulting, after ideas and themes are lazily repackaged, after Tyler and his crew spit misogynistic and homophobic raps without agency one-too-many times, there’s a bittersweet sense of pity you feel for the kid.
Before the pity sinks in, a track like “Tron Cat” digs deep into the vulgarity Tyler wears without reservations. It’s prime Odd Future that jumps off the cliff with mouth-agape imagery (“rape a pregnant bitch then tell my friends I had a threesome”), too-soon cultural references (“Got a nigga shaking like the calmest fucking Haitians”), and absurdest punch-lines (“I’m awesome, and I fuck dolphins”). To the same extent, there’s the now ubiquitous “Yonkers”. Instead of drunken synths and bloody beats, there’s a sparse drum loop Dre would be proud of, an incessant dog-yelp propelling the momentum, and thick jazz chords played clean on a piano. Clever, cultured, and crass — “c-words” we actually care about when they comes from Tyler’s mouth.These two songs lead the sweet spots on Goblin, with the former displaying the best of what was, and the latter exhibiting the best of what’s to come in Tyler’s career.
As on his first LP, 2009’s Bastard, Tyler plays therapist to himself, literally, casting his digitally lowered asthmatic growl as the purported voice of reason. The Therapists’ recurrence here is the first hint that Goblin is more of a continuation of Bastard — in other words, Tyler still hasn’t gotten up off the couch. The freedom of this frame allows for a similar purging of the subconscious, which alternately lifts the album up, and then buries it. The exuberance and anarchistic glee on the “Radical” fully embraces his myopic nihilism. Sure, the shout-chorus “Kill people, burn shit, fuck school” may be a trope in the punk wheelhouse, but it’s a moment where all inhibitions are dropped and the core of Tyler’s voice connects to the masses.
And if you’ve seen Odd Future live, and you’ve seen them perform “Radical”, you know that they are all about connection to the audience. Crushingly, that connection is all but absent for the majority of the album. In its place are too many fragmented and familiar exhibits, hastily mounted with embarrassing (and pitiful) amounts of pride. His anger Goblin is too unabridged to function as a narrative for Tyler to air his grievances, and the length of the album, 72 minutes, unfortunately catches Tyler in the act of amusing himself with low-road middle-finger diatribes like a petulant teenager.
Shock as a tactic has eroded over the years, and Tyler’s attempts to repeatedly lionize his demons don’t land anywhere near the target of innovation or originality that he banks on. What’s more is that Tyler revels in the belief that these thoughts of his deserve an equally macabre musical accompaniment in the form of repellent dungeon-synth drag-beats. Gilding the lily isn’t quite the right phrase, but you get the idea. As a result, tracks like the Dracula rape-fantasy of “Transylvania” or the Aquatic rape-fantasy of “Fish” don’t spit vitriol and connect, but disengage and rot in the corner of a record that begs to have more urgency. The unnecessary outro on “Radical” and the plodding and aimless “Window” contribute accurately to the mood of Goblin, but with the same tired shade of death that is been painted elsewhere.
As the final entry on the album “Golden” closes, and Tyler is carried off in a straight-jacket by The Therapist after murdering his entire crew, you get the sense that this therapy session was more or less a complete failure. Tyler knows he hasn’t conquered anything, or learned anything, or took anything to heart. How can you not feel sorry for both his character on the album and sole creative force behind Goblin? With so much talent bursting from his core and no filter to sift out bullshit (“Bitch Suck Dick”), a sordid family history and a new-found place in the spotlight (“Nightmare”), no real idea how to talk to women (“She”, “Her”, oh, and any time he says “cunt”), the kid still has a long way to go before he finds a cure. All this underlying pathos ultimately makes for a sad and honest chapter in Tyler’s career — his young, ground-breaking, fascinating, magnetic career that’s only like, three years old. He’ll get off that couch of his soon enough.