I admittedly haven’t written an album review in a minute. It’s June, I know, and there’s been a number of projects this year that deserved a blog post. Blame it on lack of inspiration, being overwhelmed with adult life, writer’s block, what have you.
The truth is, as much as I loved other releases from 2019, not one of them moved me enough to make me sit down and write something. That is, until Tyler, the Creator dropped the follow-up to his critically-acclaimed 2017 album (and my number-one pick of the year), Flower Boy.
There was a lot of speculation, and some skepticism, as to whether Tyler would be able to top the enormous praise he received with Flower Boy. For those that were fans of him from Goblin and Wolf days, 2017 marked a wild departure from the roach-eating, over-the-top offensiveness and grit displayed in his musical roots. Quite frankly, it was hard for me to even listen to some of his old songs without feeling guilty for enjoying them. Perhaps that’s why Flower Boy, with all of its colorful, flowery, heartfelt subject matter and masterfully designed concept, was such a winner. Sometimes it’s frustrating to see your favorite artists change their style and abandon what made them brilliant. In Tyler’s case, though, sometimes the musical evolution changes the artist from a run-of-the-mill favorite, to a legend.
So here I am, sitting on a barstool in a coffee shop, forcing myself to spend some time expressing my deep gratitude for the sonic and visual masterpiece that is IGOR. Forget topping Flower Boy, try following it up with an equally-impressive experimental journey. IGOR, donning a neon suit and blonde bowl-cut wig, stands on its own very strong two legs. In fact, I think this may be the project that encourages the masses to reconsider their opinions of Tyler. He’s no longer his problematic younger self— he’s fully grown into his musical talents, and it’s just now beginning to show.
While Flower Boy was a soul-searching journey through self discovery and acceptance, IGOR is a journey through an unhealthy relationship. A love-triangle between IGOR, a mysterious male figure, and the man’s assumedly unwitting girlfriend. Narrated by the great Jerrod Carmichael, IGOR takes us through the initial stages of this relationship to its challenging end— a rollercoaster of infatuation, jealousy, hurt and ultimate reparation— a ride that most people, including myself, can likely relate to.
We are introduced to IGOR on the album’s opening track- “IGOR’S THEME”. A distorted synth, accompanied by vocals from Lil Uzi Vert, set the scene. Off the bat, it’s hype, it’s sinister, it’s exciting. Tyler once again displays his mastery of production, even without fully entering the track. We’re then transported into “EARFQUAKE”— an upbeat, cheerful dance tune on its surface, with a dark side. Here we begin to understand the concept of the album. IGOR/Tyler is singing about someone in his life, powerful enough to shake up his whole world— “Don’t leave, it’s my fault, cause when it all comes crashing down, I’ll need you.” We’re thrown into a dynamic that’s currently unclear— Who is this person, and why are they leaving? To me, it seems IGOR is struggling with having feelings for this person, but those feelings are going unreciprocated— and he’s pleading for some sort of sign that the connection is real. The chorus, assisted by the iconic Dev Hynes, instantly sticks to your head. (P.S., props to the Genius writer that had to decipher Playboi Carti’s verse).
Hoping to learn some more information, we’re blessed by “I THINK”. Without a doubt my favorite track, and a shining moment in Tyler’s musical career, “I THINK” further outlines this mysterious relationship. Now we know for certain— IGOR’s falling in love, but again, the other person hasn’t expressed the same sentiment. The undeniably infectious beat on this song has had me shamelessly dancing around the past two weeks. For now, IGOR’s demeanor remains benign. And by the end of this track, we’ve reached the end of the first quarter. Jerrod Carmichael’s interlude leads us into part two.
On “RUNNING OUT OF TIME,” our hero starts hinting at desperation. This song also feels like a call back to Flower Boy, thematically and in mood. Of course, you could tie it back to “I Ain’t Got Time!”— but instead of not having time for people that want to mooch off of Tyler’s success, he doesn’t have time to wait for his love interest to show his true self. “Take your mask off, it need it out the picture” implies something’s being hidden, and that something is preventing IGOR from making this relationship a reality. The picture’s becoming clearer now. Then it’s ripped wide open on “NEW MAGIC WAND.”
No more benign IGOR. “NEW MAGIC WAND” is raucous, unapologetic and menacing, and I love it. In my head I imagine IGOR sitting at a computer, messing around with Photoshop, doing everything in his power to erase the opposite end of this love triangle— his love interest’s girlfriend. Kind of like how internet weirdos put their faces on stranger’s bodies to make it look like they’re hugging their celebrity crush. At first, we’re led to believe this is fairly innocent— the “magic wand” in question is simply a photo-editing tool— but by song’s end, the obsession turns violent, and the “magic wand” sounds more like a deadly weapon. “NEW MAGIC WAND” not only serves as a turning point in IGOR’s character development, but is also likely to please Tyler’s long-time fans who want to lose their minds in a mosh pit. (I will be one of those people.) There are so many reasons to love this song— the grittiness, the build-up, the lyrical cleverness— all of it.
Following the subtle implication to having a “deadly weapon”— “A BOY IS A GUN*” serves as IGOR’s last ditch-effort to salvage whatever’s left of this uncomfortable relationship, before giving up and moving on: “Give a f*** what they talkin’ bout, I see you as a 10/Imma leave it at that, Imma leave us as friends, cause this irony is I don’t wanna see you again.” Signaling the end of IGOR’s pursuit of this person, this line is also an interesting callback to Flower Boy’s "See You Again”. Is this person the same “ideal lover” described on “See You Again?” Maybe so. The song ends with one line in repetition— “stay the f*** away from me,” which ironically leads into “PUPPET”.
Tyler’s rap verse on “PUPPET” perfectly lays out the controlling nature of an unhealthy relationship, and again displays his exceptional lyrical aptitude. Despite demanding this person to stay away from him less than a minute ago, we see IGOR desperately bending to his will and trying to accommodate his needs. His self-profession as being a “puppet” is supported by vocals from Kanye West (“Did I wait too long?”). Interestingly enough, the previous track sampled “Bound” by the Ponderosa Twins, as in Kanye’s “Bound 2”. Hmmm. There’s levels to it.
Anyway, as Jerrod Carmichael leads us to the final stage of IGOR’s development, we’re slapped with “WHAT’S GOOD”— an abruptly aggressive turn into what feels like the brother to “Who Dat Boy”. It’s a brush-up on IGOR’s ego, an angry rebuttal to being rejected by his love interest— and a 180 to the character we heard on “PUPPET”. In this sense, “WHAT’S GOOD” acts as IGOR’s revelatory moment. His love interest wasn’t giving him what he wanted, now he’s moving on and reestablishing himself as someone not to be messed with. The track ends with Jerrod- “I don’t know what’s harder… letting go or just being okay with it.”
Thus, we begin our reparations. “GONE, GONE/THANK YOU” is refreshingly happy-sounding, but heartbreakingly bittersweet. Lyrics like “At least I had it, instead of never” and “my love’s gone” featuring vocals from Cee-Lo Green drive-home the point: IGOR’s letting go. Perhaps one of my favorite moments on the album appears here:
“I just hope to god she got good taste
To put you on some shit you never seen
Could play a couple songs that you can dance to
I hope you know she can’t compete with me”
The final verse in “GONE, GONE” is monumental, displaying IGOR’s acceptance that the relationship has ended. He’s lost the proverbial battle, but recognizes that he was true to himself and finds peace in this. “THANK YOU” is, fittingly, a thank-you note to his love, and a declaration that he doesn’t want to be in love again, presumedly because of the hurt it has caused. Same though, same.
“I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE” is the penultimate piece of IGOR’s story— a straight-forward message of progress, showing that he’s finally gotten over his obsession and recognizes the strength in letting go. “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?” neatly wraps up the album’s theme. While not a lyrically-heavy track, Tyler shows off his genre-bending production, tapping assistance from his idol Pharrell Williams, and Jack White. By the end, we’ve listened as IGOR fell into an obsessive love, battled with a female competitor, became frustrated over not receiving the affection he wanted, falling out of love, and ultimately moving on. If the answer to the song’s question is yes, you could argue, the album loops back to the beginning, and the cycle continues.
So for my final thoughts:
I know it’s only June, but I’m inclined to label IGOR the album of the year. I’m hoping Tyler continues to ride this wave of success and kick off an incredible tour to support the record. Marking Tyler’s first, IGOR has debuted on the Billboard charts at No. 1, beating out DJ Khaled, Billie Eilish and Khalid. Front to back, IGOR is beyond impressive, demonstrating all aspects of Tyler’s musical prowess. I love the character he’s created to represent this era, and can’t wait to see what he does next. With that being said, this was an easy rating: