Before I start this review I have to declare an interest. In early 2011, at a Full Moon Party in Ko Phangan, Thailand, I stumbled off a beach into a conveniently located tattoo parlour and got an Odd Future tattoo. At 19, Odd Future was my world. I spouted (and believed) every single one of their slogans. At only 19, Tyler The Creator had already put out two classic albums. That’s not to mention the huge potential of his crew. I felt safe that this tattoo was an investment in the future. It was a sure thing that Odd Future would be just as important musically in 2050 as they were now. Flash forward to 2015. The words ‘Odd Future’ are only ever spoken in connection with an online socks purchase. You could be forgiven for thinking that ‘Domo Genesis’ or ‘Jasper Dolphin’ were playable characters on Mortal Kombat, rather than rappers. I thank god every day that I hadn’t settled on the word “Swag” across my chest –a term which I thought was as cool as it was timeless.
So now with every Odd Future release, I perform a series of mental acrobatics to convince myself that I like whatever it is they’ve put out. I liked Cherry Bomb. But I need the world to love it. And in 100 years when Yonkers and Beethoven’s Fifth are beamed into space as a representation of the canon of human musical achievement, people will finally acknowledge me as a prophetic genius.
Cherry Bomb is a fitting title. It’s an attempt to artificially sweeten Tyler’s rough-as guts-sound. Mangled guitar riffs are sprinkled with Charlie Wilson vocals. Ear-bleeding bass is sugar-coated in smooth Toro Y Moi production. But make no mistake, underneath the chocolate coating is Tyler’s classic distorted nightmare. If you want a really specific candy analogy, I’d have to go with the Picnic. Buffalo and Pilot share similarities with Tyler’s early work. They both feature the ‘horror synths’ of Tron Cat, distortion and an unsettling drum on the off-beat. Tyler then glazes them with some warmer moments; light piano in the middle of Buffalo and some sweet female vocals on Pilot. Even the violent Cherry Bomb, which is so distorted that it’s barely audible, has patches of warmth with a female vocal bridge.
But Cherry Bomb isn’t just a fun-size snack. There’s a deep engagement with the avant garde that will ensure the album warrants another listen. Tyler has completely outgrown the Clockwork Orange hyper-violence of his youth. Old fans might be disappointed, but shouldn’t be surprised. Tyler’s music has always been experimental, and Wolf gave us more of a taste of his jazz sensibilities and love for all things Pharrell (N.E.R.D and The Neptunes). 2 Seater is mind-boggling in its range. There’s 70’s funk, a smooth jazz interlude and random whirring, which is a tad nauseating. Tyler gives a skewed interpretation of a Pharrell Williams song on Fucking Young complete with deliberately poor singing. The last two tracks Keep Da O’s and Okaga, CA are a free-fall into an experimental rabbit-hole.
This is a wise move. Tyler can’t play the rebel forever. He recognises the importance of showing that he’s not a one-trick pony and that he has some substance and longevity as an artist. Cherry Bomb gives us a glimpse into the epic depths of Tyler’s talents as a producer. Like the complexity and intricacy of the production rivals My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and To Pimp A Butterfly, there is so much going on in every song. It’s clear that Tyler will have a career in production long after his public persona has faded. This is also good news for any tattoo-havers out there concerned about their favourite artists impact on posterity.
Having said that, Cherry Bomb is not an easy listen. Recently, I was very hard on Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly because of its jarring nature. Tyler’s new album is like a dubstep remix of nails on a chalkboard. It has all the intense distortion of his earlier work, which was challenging in itself. But, now his new jazz and orchestral tendencies make the music even more varied and confusing. Sometimes white noise can be relaxing. But throw a saxophone or violin over it, and it’s complete chaos. It’s also erratic; a new sound is introduced every second, and then just as quickly vanishes. It will be literally torturous for parents.
So, can I classically condition myself to like Tyler’s new album? If I give myself an electric shock for every bad thought I have about Cherry Bomb will I learn to love it? With great concentration, I can accept that Cherry Bomb aims very wide, and mostly hits the mark. It’s sonic vomit, but each song more or less achieves what it sets out to do. Deathcamp works as the thrasher anthem. Find Your Wings succeeds as The Neptunes tribute piece, and The Brown Stains of Darkeese is awesome as Tyler’s warped take on gangster rap. But Cherry Bomb was not an enjoyable listen. It’s not something that I’ll be coming back to. The good news is that Cherry Bomb might be a critical success. That means that even though a Beatles tattoo would have been safer, I might not be embarrassed going shirtless at the beach in 50 years time.