If you want to get an idea of just how drastically the hip hop scene is set to change this year, reading up on Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All is a pretty good place to start. A rapidly accumulating catalogue of free albums and endless blog coverage has culminated into rabid anticipation for the major label debut of the collective’s unelected leader. It has become fairly obvious that Tyler, the Creator is aware of his status as the underground hero of 2011, and if that’s not motivation enough to stay the course, I’m not sure what is. As expected, his sophomore effort is peppered with stream-of-consciousness bombast that is brimming with anxiety, vacillation and fury. This is almost to a fault, as Goblin ends up doing so much that it comes across as a bit scattershot. There’s some truly great leftfield hip hop here, but some tracks seem like offshoots of ephemeral, hormonal impulses, or just excuses to cram as much profanity and rage into a few minutes as possible. While all of this may actually be the point, these disparities make for something of a jarring listen.
Goblin unfolds like a semi-autobiographical therapy session filled with gruesome banter and teen angst. In other words, this is Bastard on a grander scale. “You obviously have some fucking problems,” remarks Tyler’s conscience (his own pitch-shifted voice) on the venomously gripping closer “Golden.” That’s probably putting it a little too delicately. This is sure to go down as the most wildly offensive release of the year; there’s no restraint to be had. Goblin is chock-full of depictions of graphic violence, rape and murder, and bigotry and chauvinism run rampant. Obscenity is the game at hand here, and Tyler is a virtuoso. This isn’t, however, mutually exclusive with intelligence. On “Tron Cat,” off-colour rhymes and idioms are stacked with abandon, and the result is often darkly funny; “Her” is an oddly perceptive love song (if you can call it that) with a degree of detail that makes it entirely believable; and on the elliptic “Nightmare” Tyler offers a revealing and deeply personal account of his childhood and his ascent to fame.
On other tracks, the tone ranges from impish: “Life’s a cute bitch full of estrogen/ And when she gives you lemons/ Throw them at pedestrians,” to deliberately tasteless: “I’m sicker than a starving Nigerian kid barfing,” to outrageously anarchistic. The chorus for garage rap thrasher “Radicals” is “Kill people/ Burn shit/ Fuck school,” and opens with Tyler reiterating that his songs are fiction and no one should actually act on what he’s saying. Deflecting the blame for potential acts of real world violence occurs numerous times, and you get the feeling that it’s more of a commentary than an actual disclaimer.
One thing Tyler can’t be accused of is a shortage of ideas, but the lack of quality control ends up being somewhat problematic. Goblin is probably about thirty minutes too long, and the stylistic gap between, say, the almost sweetly rendered “Analog” and the flat-out obnoxious “Bitch Suck Dick” is a little too wide for them to fit comfortably on the same record. Songs like “Fish” and 8-minute “Windows” are drawn out needlessly, and end up dragging the whole thing down. But if Tyler doesn’t quite yet know how to properly abridge or contextualize his thoughts, he certainly knows how to compliment them musically. The title track alternates gracefully between lofty string arrangements and a portentous two-note piano line, while the brilliant lead single “Yonkers” features a rusty, heaving beat that sounds like it’s struggling to keep from falling apart. Elsewhere, the music simply takes over; the instrumental “AU79” zips along playfully with rapid-fire percussion and space age swishes, and the absence of Tyler’s gravelly, asthmatic rasp makes for the smoothest track on the album. Bass lines are scarce on Goblin, as are traditional song structures, which helps to keep your attention even when some of the longer songs begin to meander.
With the weight of expectation present here, it’s more or less a guarantee that some people are going to forget that Tyler is still just a kid, albeit a whip-smart one who’s also stomping around outside the gates of insanity. A little overindulgence is pretty easy to forgive at this stage. The inclusion of half an hour of filler? Less so. Goblin isn’t a towering achievement like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, nor is it an unadulterated failure like Lasers. Rather, it stands alone as a fascinatingly grotesque project that will gain recognition irrespective of what people think of it. It may be a sprawling, jumbled mess, but if Goblin‘s primary reason for being is to further convince us just how completely nuts Tyler actually is, then I’d say it’s a success.