Cherry Bomb Is Tyler, The Creator's Best Album
My introduction to Tyler, The Creator was “Yonkers” and its accompanying music video. This video, plus Earl Sweatshirt’s “Earl” music video and a classic TV performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, put the Odd Future collective on the proverbial map. Despite the hype, Goblin, Tyler’s second album, was unbelievably lackluster and largely unlistenable. Tyler was significantly better on Wolf, where he continued with his concept-album desires and expanded his musical palette. Then, on Cherry Bomb, it’s like Tyler artistically lost his mind. Like a Jackson Pollack painting, Tyler threw everything at the wall. The beats are maximalist and the rapping is very good but often buried in the mix. Meanwhile, his neo-soul palette that was hinted at with songs like “Treehome95” was wonderfully expanded. His musical expression, preceded by the shift we saw on Wolf, changed forever with Cherry Bomb. It is Tyler’s best album. On a track from Call Me If You Get Lost, Tyler said the album “sounded so shifty.” I think it is Tyler at his most unique. A challenging album, Cherry Bomb rewards multiple listens.
What Tyler does so well on Cherry Bomb is transform songs from chaos to bliss. On “Pilot,” he is in a world of chaos, which he flows through as if unworried. This is also where we get early glimpses into a recurring theme for Tyler of death by decadence with lyrics like “I’m in first class but I feel like coach.” The titular track, “Cherry Bomb,” is abrasive but deconstructs into beauty. He takes a metal-rap song and transforms it into a soaring, synth-led ballad. The song’s lyrics are great, even though they’re so muffled. I think Tyler’s inability to love his own voice on this album contributes to his ability to uniquely express a common feeling of self-doubt. “Come and light my fire, I’ll burn your fuckin’ face off” is an anthemic line that he was merely grasping for on “Radicals.” The distorted sound on “Cherry Bomb” and other songs from this album would be eloquently utilized a year later by Travis Scott on Birds in The Trap Sing McKnight. The best song on the album is the closer, “Okaga, Ca.” This multifaceted song encapsulates everything that Tyler seemed to be going for on this album. It has a neo-soul beat, backing vocals, rapping, singing, distortion and an extended, beautiful instrumental passage.
There are great features on this album too. Cherry Bomb was released the same year as The Internet’s Ego Death and that band’s lead singer, Syd, appears multiple times on the album. She has a feature on “Find Your Wings” alongside Kali Uchis. This was three years prior to Kali’s Isolation, a phenomenal neo-soul album. “Smuckers” features Lil Wayne and Ye. Ye’s Nike line is peak Ye, as is his absolute abomination of American football logic with the line, “You can’t lynch Marshawn with Tom Brady throwing to me.” This song came out between Yeezus and The Life of Pablo, and it was Cherry Bomb’s raw, unfinished, industrial sound that Ye was at the forefront of at this time. Elsewhere on the track, Tyler holds his own while trading bars with one of the best rappers of all time.
It’s not that I don’t like the new Tyler but, as I revisited Call Me and the newly released, expanded version, The Estate Sale, I couldn’t help but feel that he is becoming like other highly successful rap artists. It’s all great to hear about your Rolls Royce and the expensive things you do, but I preferred it when Tyler wasn’t so hung up on his material things. I know that album still has heart, as most expressed on “Wilshire,” but, for me, it wasn’t as good as Cherry Bomb. You could argue that Igor was the artistic expression that I was looking for, but that album only sounded like a richer Cherry Bomb. People gushed over Igor like Tyler hadn’t displayed this alternative, artistic style in 2015.
I suggest you give Cherry Bomb another listen. It hasn’t aged as well as some albums, as Tyler has continued to create far-reaching songs, hone his skills and increase his recording budget. However, it meant a great deal to me at a certain period in my life and I still find the songs to be some of Tyler’s best.