Before Tyler claimed him for his own, Igor was a stock character who captured the imagination of cult creators from goth-rock icon Bela Lugosi to Tim Burton. Igor is a monstrous yet pitiful figure, with his deformed body representing a symbolic threat to stuffy, polite society. In the cover art for his sixth album IGOR, Tyler, The Creator glowers with a jutting underbite, lopsided eyes, his face rendered in grainy monochrome as if the image had been run through a photocopier on the wrong setting.
It makes sense that Tyler Okonma would take Igor as an avatar at some point, but it’s a more perplexing choice in 2019. Tyler’s early music was peppered with homophobic slurs and references to sexual abuse, cementing him as a divisive figure who was, at best, a Gen-Z antihero (and at worst a headline-hungry troll). But IGOR is the easily-accessible endpoint of a decade of music in which Tyler has gradually softened his image and music, most notably in his career-realigning 2017 album Flower Boy, which was permeated with soul and slacker rock textures and cast him as an empathetic, lonely figure. When asked last year if he’d ever been in love, Tyler replied: “I don’t want to talk about that [...] that’s the next record.”
Over gleaming electro-soul, IGOR loosely describes one gay relationship from starry-eyed inception (I Think) to the anxiety of getting hurt (Boy is a Gun), to eventual heartbreak. On the spry, soulful “Gone Gone/Thank You,” he sings about his partner being on the DL. “I hope you know she can't compete with me,” he sings. Later, he warns “I know your secrets.” It figures that it took Tyler until age 28 to make a record about gay love. As LGBTQ+ people, our teenage years can be wrapped up in trying to figure out who we are, shutting out the possibility of moony first love ’til later. Yet the album is also imbued with the knowledge that there’s no upper age limit to confusion about sexuality.
Tyler really sings on this record, but an abundance of pitch shifting can sometimes feel unwelcome on songs that pay tribute to soul greats like Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder. At times, the effect veers uncomfortably close to pastiche, and sounds can get samey. Melodic masterminds like Solange and La Roux are featured on the record, but their contributions feel less than the sum of their parts. Oddly for an album which is the closest Tyler has come to pop, fewer than half of IGOR’s songs have true earworm potency – most notably Earfquake, the album’s de facto single, with a campy video featuring Tracee Ellis Ross.
IGOR centres Tyler’s own increasingly transparent narrative as a queer person. There is a clutch of musical bright spots here, but at times the album privileges his own story over creating the most compelling music possible. And, given that Tyler has talked of Solange’s March-released When I Get Home as a key influence on IGOR, it’s worth wondering how rushed the creation of this album was. IGOR marks a personal win for Tyler, The Creator, even if not quite a fully-fledged artistic triumph.