Beginning with a serene and grand intro/title track that's slowly F-bombed into oblivion -- and that's both F-bombs, the one that rhymes with "duck," and the one that rhymes with "stag" -- Tyler, The Creator's third solo effort Wolf is a frustrating jumble.
On one hand, there are the old and now crusty elements where blogs get skewered, professional music review sites get called out by name, and that homophobic slur is dropped with abandon, something made all the more perplexing when Frank Ocean ("out" and Odd Future/Tyler-associated singer) takes time out from his rise to the top to sing with an old friend.
Of course, the N-bomb also flies out the door like it was put on clearance, and while Tyler's great feedback loop (he offers a freak out; people freak out; he freaks out about people freaking out, etc.) doesn't reach its Zen breakthrough on Wolf (it's arguably spiraling downward), this album comes from one reinvigorated provocateur as his vocal delivery is sharp and his punch lines punchier.
Then, there's the pre-release talk from the man himself, giving the throwback album an out by declaring it not the end of the Bastard, Goblin trilogy and also not a lyrics album but a production showcase, that latter bit being a return to when Tyler was the wild underground hip-hop crew's behind-the-boards-guy as much as their leader.
The two worlds collide on the suite that goes "Partyisntover/Campfire/Bimmer" as parties, cabins, cars, and other teenage hangouts turn into goth hang-ups (draggy synths lie underneath "We could try to dance, but I ain't got no rhythm"), but what's new and "now" is that guest Ocean sounds like the Grammy-man he's become, and an appearance from former Stereolab singer Laetitia Sadier just wasn't possible in those early uploading days.
"IFHY" is another throwback as an emo kid evolves into a serial killer during the course of a love letter, and yet superstar Pharrell is on the cut, million-dollar crooning over some drippy production that came from Tyler's stickered-up laptop.
Later, there's majestic songstress Erykah Badu on the near novelty number "Treehome95" (neo-soul meets Jellystone Park where all pillow talk numbers will be sung by Boo-Boo Bear) while Odd Future crew members Domo Genesis and Earl Sweatshirt land on a number that's Tyler circa 2013, with "Mollys" and whatnot updating their lingo as the music grows into something well-funded and filled with twangy guitars from Tarantinoland.
Hearing the old days with major-label money wouldn't be enough, so smart production tricks ("Jamba" is a jittery, cut-up joy and "Awkward" sounds like a teen nightmare on sizzurp), wacky lyrics that grab ("He hates women, but loves kittens" or "Sick and getting bigger like I sneezed on Adele"), and some rock-solid highlights ("Domo23" is an electro karate chop, "Trashwang" is the posse cut on a good trip, while "Cowboy" is an irresistible, sizzurpy singalong) help carry this one.
It's a fun album for fanatics, but the willingness to shock feels too comfortable at this point, so those who found it tiresome before will likely find it devastating here.