Goblin (XL, 2011)
by Tyler, The Creator
originally published at Dusted Magazine
Hypothesis No. 1: Tyler needs a therapist. Of course, this is a conclusion so foregone it’s irrelevant: Goblin, like Bastard, is framed explicitly as a therapy session with Dr. TC, who — spoiler alert — is merely the lowest-voiced member of our narrator’s psychotic menagerie of selves, alongside/athwart Tyler’s Conscience and Ace Creator and Wolf Haley and Tron Cat, etfuckingcetera. This particular session comes to the rather macabre end foreshadowed from its opening words, but it’s not like the demons haunting it are all imaginary. The title track alone offers a pretty lucid foothold on what’s eating Tyler right now: he’s been bum-rushed by fame, miscast and pigeonholed by the internet, overestimated and underestimated by critics and fans, taken away from the humble things he loves by the loftier things he loves. He’s a 20-year-old boy who’s extremely talented, extremely self-aware and extremely melodramatic, so try telling him anything about himself that he hasn’t already figured out, including that his self-awareness can get supremely (get it?) tedious. That’s the frustrating thing about trying to appraise something like Goblin, and also the infuriating thing about trying to reason with someone both intelligent and miserable.
Hypothesis No. 2: Tyler needs an editor. Goblin‘s three singles so far, “Yonkers,” “Tron Cat,” and “Sandwitches,” listed in order of quality (“Burgers,” the centerpiece of the album’s bonus material, should be in there somewhere), are all extraordinary little baths of synthetic menace, but they should all be at least one verse shorter. Some of the other tracks are twice as long as they should be, and a few should’ve been scrapped entirely. “Fish/Boppin Bitch” is terrible, even judged by idiot-savant shock value; “Transylvania” isn’t that bad, but it’s hard to see why you would ever need to listen to it more than once. On the other hand, it’s possible that Tyler’s inability to filter his thoughts, caustic and graphic and horrible as they may be, is meant to be the realest thing about him, the most sympathetic, or at least the most authentically scary. Goblin glosses like it was conceived and written by a hyper-articulate 12-year-old, a kid whose left-brain kept growing while his moral sensibilities and emotional vocabulary dwindled to a stream of rape-faggot jokes and Columbine references, whose sense of humor is so complexly twisted that he’s only funny when he’s pretending, in his prematurely gravelly snarl, to feel feelings. Which is, of course, exactly who wrote it, and for the most part who’s going to be listening to it, too.
Hypothesis No. 3: Tyler needs a childhood. Not much we can do about that now, but the place we find him at circa Goblin is a particularly malign place. Nothing weighs so heavily on this kid, and on this album — which is an impressive accomplishment by all standards of production and lyrical skill — as accountability. No secret he’s a puzzle, a “fucking walking paradox” (“no I’m not,” comes the reply), but he’s so smart, so self-aware, so talented, that on some level we’re expecting him to get it — if not to have the solution, then to at least be a few steps closer to solving it than we are. We don’t know what combination of irony and perversion was in Tyler’s head at the moment he wrote and/or recorded a line like “rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome” — or, fuck it, a line like “I’m awesome / and I fuck dolphins.” We have no idea whatsoever, and the only reason we’re paying attention to him is that we take it on faith that he could explain it if he wanted to. (“I’m not fucking crazy!” he shrieks at the end of the album, as though clinging to some kind of self-engineered sanity. “I’m a fucking table!”) And yet ingrained in the very framing device of Goblin is the insistence that Tyler understands and controls what’s going on least of all.
So where does he go from here? Tyler’s triumph is to have chosen the right moment to descend on our ravenous consumer culture and pass off his every contradiction, complaint and affront to common decency as some very important next-level shit — to have attained such oracular status that we read “gun to your head, make your bitch massage my shoulders” like it’s deep as fuck rather than stupid as fuck. His tragedy is that, unlike Lil B, he’s too clever for his own oracular status, and now that he’s deep, he’d rather be stupid again. He’d rather just piss and moan, brood about girls and his father, make grossly immature jokes about rape and murder. He’s aged a light year since Bastard, but he’s still only two months out of teenagerhood. Goblin is the messy schizoid splatter painting of the child we’ve raised and ruined, and it’s coherent only as a hopeless plea for us to expect nothing from him again.
Hypothesis No. 4: Tyler needs to stop making music if he ever wants to grow up. No, that’s not right — that would be a terrible pity. He just needs to stop letting us hear it.back