The rapper that once dealt out rape jokes and homophobic slurs over moody beats is now singing about gay heartbreak over upbeat jazzy production. It's a continuation of the sound on his last record Flower Boy, but whilst that album was still mainly rapping, this record is mostly singing.
Unfortunately, Tyler still can’t hold a note to save his life, and there’s less of his personality in these songs than ever before (which is partly what made him so unique in the first place).
On my first listen, I hated the shaky singing and detached lyrics so much that I was ready to write a scathing review. BRING BACK THE OLD TYLER WAAAAH! But repeat listens have made me warm to this album more and more.
What made me keep returning to this album? The production of course. It’s bloody phenomenal. Impressive production has been the one consistent thing on all of Tyler’s albums (aside from the iffy mixing on Cherry Bomb) and on this album Igor he’s truly outdone himself. From the slow-building epic intro of ‘Igor’s Theme’ to the glistening old-skool soul of closing track ‘Are We Still Friends?’ it keeps the listener hooked with constant twists and turns. Thick synth bass, lush piano chords and dusty samples all weave in an out of one another in a proggy fashion. I hear elements of Stevie Wonder, N.E.R.D and even Kanye West.
There’s enough detail in the production to distract from Tyler’s singing – which I admit isn’t all awful. ‘Earfquake’ still feels like Tyler’s stretching his vocal ability too far (and the lyrics are some of the soppiest on the album), but things seem to improve on the following tracks such as ‘Running out of Time’ (the pitch-shifting somehow helps, giving it a Quasimoto feel).
And whilst there’s less rapping on this record, it’s not all but gone. ‘I Think’ sees Tyler adopting an almost Kanye-esque flow. ‘A Boy Is A Gun’ and ‘What’s Good’ meanwhile see Tyler getting a little angrier and offer glimpses of old Tyler without the crude bars. I’d even argue that this is some of Tyler’s best rapping, even if there’s less of it.
There’s also a lot of vocal guests to add variety. The likes of Cee Lo Green and Frank Ocean grace Tyler’s production with the singing talent it deserves, even if they only show up for a fleeting moment. A number of guest rappers also lay down verses including Kanye West on ‘Puppet’ (although his vocals are buried deep in the mix to the point that they’re practically unintelligible – the only instance where the production falters, although it’s probably intentional).
As for the lyrics, repeat listens have made me appreciate them more. It’s unusual to hear Tyler approaching the topic of love so sincerely – the same Tyler eight years ago would have scoffed at it. Even if the result is soppy in parts, there are other tracks (particularly towards the end) where the heartbreak feels truly genuine and deep ('Are We Still Friends?' gave me tingles). Even if he performs each track from the newfound character of Igor, it makes you wonder if there’s more personal substance to this album than he lets up.
All in all, it may not be the rap record people expected, but it makes up for it by being an impressive soul album.