When the world turned it’s collective gaze to Tyler, The Creator and the rest of Odd Future by extension, many a word was written about how great their works were. They were technically skilled, funny and showed the sort of prowess in presenting a unified vision that eludes most of their predecessors. Anticipation and excitement at their potential reached a wild high. However, just as many words were written about how offensive and perverse their albums were – rape, murder, nazis, homophobia and all other manners of societal taboos were pulled from their work to be examined. The morality police all around the world pulled out their comically large magnifying glasses to examine each syllable and video for evidence that these kids were the downfall of western civilization. In the debates of the morality of the work and the motivation behind it, a key point was consistently overlooked… The idea that Tyler’s work is so viscerally offensive to the world because the world is so offensive to him.
Bastard—like most outsider art—was social commentary. Just not in that heavy handed “help Darfur, now!” way that U2 does social commentary. There are no songs on Bastard about third world debt or going green—instead, Bastard was an attack on the pillars of society, the things we’re all supposed to respect and revere, the things that bind us together and define us. Family, love, authority and kinship—all shit upon as perverse, laughably faulty institutions. The album lays out all the ways all these ideas fail Tyler, and then serves as his “fuck you” to indoctrination into the normal world.
If we learned anything from childhood conflicts on the playgrounds, we learned that the best way to attack someone is to bring up the things they feel most uncomfortable with. You call kids fat, ugly, stupid or poor because it gives volume to the voice in their head, that’s already saying the same things about them. Tyler brings up rape/homophobia/murder/racism on Bastard because for anyone who’s drank the Kool-Aid of society, merely bringing up these ideas causes mental dissonance that breaks the façade of normalcy/decency as harshly as pointing out that piss stain on lil Johnny’s pants at recess.
How tragic it is, that in Tyler’s great statement of rejection of the normal world, he actually forced himself deeper into it.
Goblin thematically and musically picks up right where Bastard left off. This is still both harshly personal music and a “fuck you” to everything. The formula for this album is the same as the previous one which makes Goblin more of a companion piece than an entirely separate statement. Think of Radiohead’s Kid A & Amnesiac, Converge’s Jane Doe & You Fail Me or how about just The Godfather I & II—two pieces of work that function best together as a whole body. The difference being, whereas Bastard was shouted at a world not paying attention, now, the unblinking eye of fame is focused squarely on Tyler. No surprise here, he still screams “fuck you.” This time though his beef is more about the expectations hoisted upon him as he’s forced to be part of the world he hates. “Goblin” finds Tyler lamenting his fame and lost freedom over a slowly rising strings and piano track that’s reminiscent of “Bastard.” This is an idea that he revisits throughout the album; success alienates you and complicates your life. He most powerfully states this on album closer “Golden” where he illustrates the loneliness of the spotlight in the most vivid and stark way since Kanye’s “Welcome To Heartbreak” or possibly Nirvana’s In Utero.
The statement piece though, has to be “Radicals” a song with an inflammatory chorus of “Kill people! Burn shit! Fuck school!” and a noisy beat to match. What will get missed when people reduce this song to a shitty tag on a freeway overpass is the fiercely independent message of this song. This song is where Tyler shows the most growth from Bastard, as he is able to write music that inflames the kids, but also, for the first time explicitly stands for something. What’s he stand for? Being a unicorn. Meaning, that Tyler much like Lil’ B, is espousing an idea that if you believe hard enough in yourself you can be anything. For Tyler it’s a unicorn, for Lil’ B it’s a pretty god. Surprisingly, with the hellbent chorus, this song is actually resoundingly positive and finds Tyler not spitting in the eye of the world. For those longing for the angry punk Tyler at his best, we get “Tron Cat” and “Transylvania.” Both find dude going hard enough that “French” looks like a B.O.B song by comparison. “Transylvania” will surely win the kid some kind of honorary award from the National Organization of Women with lyrics like “I don’t want a bride, I just want bone marrow.”
Making great art is about transcending from the specific into the general. It’s about extending and generalizing your experiences so that they feel relatable to people that’ve never actually had those experiences. You make a song about your girlfriend cheating on you with your twin brother at your dog’s funeral, and if you do it right, everyone collectively says, “Yeah man, I feel you. Some shit like that happen to me too.” I wonder though, how such a deeply personal album that purposefully attacks ideas 95% of the population holds dear can achieve such widespread empathy. Goblin is a very strong work musically and lyrically (albeit a bit long at times), that more than likely will have its themes of isolation and rejection of societal norms reduced to nothing more than “KILL PEOPLE BURN SHIT FUCK SCHOOL.” Usually the tragedy in something like that, is people are not really fully engaging a challenging and well crafted piece of art. In this case the great tragedy may come in Tyler becoming more famous and thusly more of the adult he so violently finds offensive.