"It's been a while since our last session," says Tyler, The Creator's fictional therapist on Goblin's opening title track, "so, tell me what's been going on." That framing device provided some continuity on the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA) frontman's self-released solo debut, Bastard (2009), a much more focused and varied outing. But on his sprawling, stream-of-consiousness sophomore effort for indie label XL, Tyler's Tony Soprano-esque couch sessions are among the few moments that stand out amidst a barrage of winking agitprop so relentless it quickly ceases to have any impact at all.
The 20-year-old Los Angeles MC produced all but one of the album's 15 tracks (with three more on the deluxe edition), and his soundscapes vary little from one song to the next, though more than a few evoke half-finished Neptunes beats. Lyrics are delivered in one of three flows: the throaty, medium-paced bark showcased on "Golden"; the sharply enunciated prose of second single "Yonkers"; and the breathless speed-rapping that closes out "Fish." There are a few stand-out verses, like those on "Tron Cat," which just about cover Tyler's entire range of subject matter, from disgusting braggadocio like "I'm awesome/and I fuck dolphins/sicker than the starving Nigerian kids barfing," to hilarious lines like "if I offend you I'm sorry/because I'm the blackest skinhead since India Arie." Another highlight, the quirky romantic narrative "She," transitions from a funny courtship with ninja cameos to bedroom window peeping and death threats. Much has been made of Tyler and OFWGTKA's luridly violent, homophobic and misogynistic lyrics, and this record delivers them by the verse-load, but those subjects are rapped about so incessantly and, more often than not, pretty poorly, that they certainly don't shock, and barely even offend.
In fact, Goblin is so consistently underwhelming—especially compared to OFWGTKA's ridiculously intense and compelling live shows—that it could almost pass as an avant-garde John Cage homage reliant upon performance for its full realization. Except that Tyler continually articulates his aspirations to mainstream, chart-topping success. On "Goblin" he throws off "indie" and "alternative" rap categorizations: "Cause I don't listen to the Immortal Tech-of-the-nique/and all this underground bullshit that's never gon' peak/on the Billboard Top 20 and Jam of the Week/I'd rather listen to Badu and Pusha the T/and some Wacka Flocka Flame instead of that real hip-hop that's bull of the shit." And on the posse cut "Window" OFWGTKA member Domo Genesis updates a classic Biggie line for the group's statement of purpose: "It was all a dream/I used to read Complex magazines/when I rhyme I'm trying to get pictures in High Times/smoke trees and see my dreams hanging in the skyline."
That's an unusually elegant visual for a record full of violent sex, bodily fluids and disavowals regarding the veracity of said imagery. For instance "Radicals," with its South Park-esque chorus of "Kill people/burn shit/fuck school," begins thusly: "Random disclaimer/hey, don't do anything that I say in this song." This brand of joking button-pushing gets old really fast, which is especially unfortunate since Goblin lasts at least twice as long as it should. For a dude with "The Creator" in his stage name, Tyler turns out to be phenomenally uncreative.