"Cherry Bomb"—the fourth studio album from Odd Future head honcho Tyler, the Creator—is frequently loud, occasionally soothing, and a bit frustrating.
In line with the recent (and awesome) trend of surprise albums, Tyler, the Creator announced Cherry Bomb just a few days prior to its April 13th digital release. The album’s single, “Fucking Young,” along with its attached snippet of the record's opening track, “Deathcamp,” showed a Tyler who is wearing his N.E.R.D. influence plain and proud, while also struggling with the trappings of fame and...statutory rape. The “Fucking Young/Deathcamp” single can actually function as a manifesto for the rest of the record, from both a conceptual and production angle.
Conceptually, Cherry Bomb seems to loosely chronicle Tyler’s relationship with a young woman who is, ostensibly, too young for him. Tyler’s antisocial brand of lyricism features prominently throughout much of the track listing. Young T, the persona Tyler adopts throughout the album, references his aversion to rules and the spotlight; makes crude references to Donald Sterling, George Zimmerman, and Michael Brown; levels some pretty heavy-handed critique at the rap industry and its audience; and even broaches on conscious rap sentiment during the final half of “Buffalo.”
Generally speaking, Cherry Bomb fails to showcase Tyler’s growth as an emcee, but there are moments throughout the album that demonstrate Tyler’s knack for writing compelling songs. Tyler is at his best on tracks like “Blow My Load,” “Okaga, CA,” and “Pilot.” Here, he forgoes his tired attempts at controversy in favor of abstract, surreal songwriting that places listeners right in the middle of Tyler’s vividly obtuse imagination. If Tyler goes any further as a lyricist, it should probably be in this direction.
Sonically, Cherry Bomb is like the prepubescent cousin of N.E.R.D.’s debut In Search Of. This is a good thing. In fact, the instrumentals are quite easily this album’s biggest strength. Cherry Bomb is filled with complex, dynamic production, all courtesy of Tyler. He infuses elements of industrial hip-hop, jazz, neo soul, and rock to create aural kaleidoscopes. Many of the instrumentals here progress from a fairly static opening and crescendo, culminating in a spacy jazz fusion flourish, or abruptly change into a completely different beat entirely. Cherry Bomb’s odd instrumental arrangements, quirky melodies and harmonies, and generally chaotic aesthetic speak to Tyler’s progress as a musician, and his potential to become one of hip-hop’s most ambitious producers. Unfortunately, not even Cherry Bomb’s grand assortment of beats can save the album from its severe technical failings.
Cherry Bomb suffers from flabby lyrics, basic rapping, Tyler’s liberal use of audio compression and distortion, and what will likely be the worst mixing and mastering job of the year. The album’s title track, for example, is a clipping, warped mess of a song, with Tyler’s vocals mixed so low that he’s barely present at all.
This was intentional, apparently, but if Tyler wanted his raps to take the backseat on this thing, why not omit them entirely? “Smuckers,” which features Kanye West and Lil Wayne, suffers similarly from spoty mixing, with Kanye’s portion clearly louder and more crisp than Tyler’s or Wayne’s. This same post-production irreverence nearly ruins the lush soundscape presented by “Pilot.” For someone who made “a quarter-million off of socks,” Tyler should be well above these technical foibles by now— and even if they were purposeful, it acts as an unnecessary distraction.
That being said, there are some good songs here, and excellent beats. The concept isn't as defined as Wolf's, but there's plenty of reason to come back to this record. Tyler just seems to hold Cherry Bomb's considerable potential hostage for little more reason than to fortify his contrarian brand.