If Bastard was Tyler’s brash coming out party and Goblin was the Odd Future controversy-baiting convention, then what’s Wolf? It hints at maturity and teases an artist moving away from shock tactics and hostility as a major point of reference; but, at times, it also seems like it’s nothing we haven’t heard before, like it’s still same old Tyler and still same old Odd Future. Tyler inches towards the development he needs to make but seems reluctant to commit. The result is a fundamentally compromised album, although still a good one.
Musically Wolf is far and away Tyler’s most varied and interesting work yet. It incorporates an eclectic mix of influences as jazz and soul blend with the traditional, nightmare-ish OF sound. The production is layered on heavily yet slickly throughout, jumping seamlessly between styles and creating the strangely listenable yet unhinged and eerily haunting sound we come to expect from Tyler. Songs like Cowboy, a disjointed, piano-led twist on a seemingly innocent tune, is just one example of the greater diversity on the album and the consistently excellent atmosphere. Other songs like Tamale, an MIA knock-off, don’t work as well. The album is often as disjointed as the music and suffers from seriously poor pacing; this is an hour-plus album that doesn’t know when to call it quits.
Albums over an hour long usually drag but they can generally fall back on a couple stellar songs to keep you coming back. Wolf doesn’t have that contingency. The songs are all pretty good, but none of them really jump out they way they should. Even Goblin, a weaker album overall, had singles like She and Sandwitches to compensate for its failings. The songs on Wolf work best as part of the whole but the whole is just too damn long. It’s progress, but, again, a compromised one.
There’s hope in songs like Answer, Colossus, 48 and IFHY though. The latter, a strange Stevie Wonder-inflected serenade, is perhaps the most aggressive love song I’ve ever heard but at least he doesn’t talk about rape or Ellen DeGeneres’ nether-regions, which is progress. Those songs best showcase the lyrical growth and more mature approach that should have been the direction of the rest of the album. It’s no coincidence that Tyler’s best vocal performances come when he drops the Odd Future slash n burn tropes and talks about how he just wants to call his Dad on Answer or please his growing legions of fans on Colossus, a song that already sounds like a new Stan. It’s when Tyler discusses his outsider status and personal issues without the veil of shock and awe lyrics about rape and murder that his talent comes out. When he reverts to type all he can fall back on is his skill as a producer, which, immense though it is, isn’t enough to save him.
Wolf is a confused, compromised album that just about works. It’s perhaps his strongest release but it’s one that’s as flawed as every other. He still relies on controversy to pull him through a whole song, but his increasingly sincere approach, especially to women and relationships on Awkward, is promising and indicates the direction he should be going in. The Jazz infused sound, perhaps most prominent on album closer Lone, also hints at where Tyler should be headed and what he should draw out. It’s the best thing about the album.
It’s both a compliment and a complaint that the best moment in the album is the first minute. It’s a minute that boasts enormous potential and has the kind of unique sound that shows off just how talented, yet unfocused Tyler is. The mid-point of the album – a three piece medley, Party Isn’t Over/Campfire/Bimmer – sums up so much of what makes the album great yet flawed. It’s too long and drags like a queen but it’s littered with moments of strange greatness. Ultimately, Tyler’s future is in the odd – it’s where this skinny, big-eared asthmatic is at home.