By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)
Back in the day, Slim Shady was the undisputed king of the rap game. Albums like the Slim Shady LP, Marshall Mathers LP & The Eminem Show were the creme de la creme of shocking, humorous and somewhat thoughtful rap, each track landing with the force of an atomic bomb. However, since 2006’s Encore & Eminem’s subsequent retirement, rap has changed massively, with grime bigger than ever, and rappers have stepped the game up massively, with rappers like Kendrick Lamar & Kanye West at the very peak of their powers. With that evolution in the music business, Eminem’s post-retirement efforts have barely failed to register on the Richter scale, with Relapse & Recovery being largely disappointing and The Marshall Mathers LP 2 being the worst sequel since Taken 2.
But with Trump in office & the world in turmoil, surely that’s enough to get Em’s dander up to a point that he stages a career restart with his new album, Revival?
Er, perhaps not.
As we touched upon earlier, rap has changed a lot, and Eminem was knocked off the throne a long, long time ago. The lead single from Revival, Walk on Water, featuring the one and only Beyonce was promising enough and a surprisingly honest track from a man so used to dealing in absurdity and abject anarchy. Untouchable was also another promising single, if not for some shonky production values, something unbelievable on an album that credits Rick Rubin and longtime friend Dr Dre as producers. Recognising institutional racism, police brutality & his own white privilege, it was a different side to Eminem, a man once obsessed with killing his own mother, his ex-wife & anybody else who caught his bad side. However, Untouchable is about as good as it gets on this album. Two singles in and already spent, Revival doesn’t really lift itself on the bed.
Notice recently how “Bare Minimum Twitter” is becoming more of a thing? Boys who hold the door open & don’t send photos of their dick to your sister are the new Lotharios, and it’s never been harder to pole vault over the bar. In this vein, Revival is “Bare Minimum Protest Music”. This album is the equivalent of those verified weirdos who manage to shoot a fifty-tweet thread to Trump about thirty seconds after he produces some kind of verbal diarrhoea on Twitter, but the crux of it is “Buhhhhh DRUMPF is bad!”, whilst offering no real venom in their bite. Woke for the sake of wokeness.
But lest we forget, this is the real Slim Shady we’re talking about here, so strides forward calling out the President for “banning transgenders from the military with a tweet” in Like Home ends up with a stride forward into a steaming dog turd with Ivanka Trump ending up in the boot of his car on Framed. Wanna talk tone deaf? #MeToo has been rolling on for a while now, so if you were Eminem, you’re a smart guy, you read the news, you see which way the wind is blowing, so you hit play on your new track, Offended, and then you think to yourself, “Hmm, should I REALLY leave the line ‘I’m still copping a feel like Bill Cosby at will‘ in this track?”. You wouldn’t, would you? You’d read the room, realise that maybe weaving in a line about notorious rapist Bill Cosby isn’t such a good idea.
Right, never mind, that’s just Eminem and that’s what Eminem does because whilst some go for laughs, he goes for gasps. Should you, Eminem, now listen to your other new track, Heat and take a good look at the line, agreeing with Donald “Grab ’em by the Pussy” Trump by saying “Why do you think they call it a snatch?”, read the FUCKING ROOM and decide that yes, this line is perfectly passable, but please, Eminem is now totally woke. Although what he’s trying to do is balance an edgy new woke persona, whilst trying to keep the Venn diagram of Eminem fans who are also Trump voters on his side.
One of the few saving graces of this album is that despite being 45 and in the game for 29 of those 45 years, his delivery & flow is immaculate as it was on the Slim Shady LP. There’s no difference between the Eminem in 1999 and the Eminem in 2017 if you held him on pure flow & delivery. Despite the fact his faux-woke act is confusing, jumping the lowest bar possible, his penchant for wordplay & smart lines hasn’t waned a single bit, with the staccato delivery in Believe, plus lines like “Started, from the, ground up, like a snowman” showcasing just what got Eminem to the top in the first place. Times change too, and Bad Husband is a track about his ex-wife Kim that isn’t threatening to slit her throat, so… there’s that… he’s not threatening to murder his ex-wife. Good, right?
And it just wouldn’t be 2017 without a collaboration with Ed Sheeran, the man who seemingly can pour cold custard into your ears and have more money than half of Africa for doing so. River sounds exactly like any other Ed Sheeran song, except Eminem is trying to kick-start his career over the top of it. Fair enough, you can only do so much with a Martin guitar and a loop pedal, but don’t do the same thing over and over again. With the absolute disappointment of Divide, EdandEm manage to kick you in the face once more in 2017.
The album is bloated, and it feels like the multitude of pop stars brought in to feature, collaborate have been brought in just to add a bit of star power to the album. Eminem is a star, yes, but when Pink, Alicia Keys, Beyonce, Ed Sheeran and Kehlani are on your album, it adds a bit more credibility to your offering, because who’d jump on a sinking ship? Joan Jett also makes an appearance, with I Love Rock & Roll being sampled on the utterly fucking horrible Remind Me. Nineteen tracks long, including interludes & intros and clocking in over an hour and a quarter long, it feels like the concept for Revival was Eminem saying “throw enough shit about and see what sticks”. Of course in this day and age, it doesn’t really matter, as you can pick and choose your moments, stream your choice cuts and leave the fat on the side of the plate. But an album that’s over an hour long, nineteen tracks long, many of them not very good is just absurd.
The sentiment in Like Home is strong enough, with Eminem once again railing against the Commander in Chimp, taking aim at Trump’s penchant for consuming copious amounts of cable TV, banning transgender folk from the military and even calling him a Nazi. The addition of Alicia Keys in the chorus really brings the song up too, and is actually one of the only worthy talking points from the album. The beat & production feels overly “‘Murica“, mind you, and it’d be worth putting some money on the President mistakenly using the instrumental version of Like Home on one of his indulgent, overly patriotic & frankly terrifying video montages whilst shrieking MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! As Robert Mueller & the gang begin to unscrew the hinges on the Oval Office’s toilet door.
On the cover of Revival is Eminem facepalming with the American flag faded over him. Clearly expressing his discontent at the State of the Nation, you’ll sit with this album and end up doing the same. It’s bloated, confusing and stating the absolute obvious. Eminem has nodded to the fact that Revival may be his last, but all things considered, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 should have been the final tug of the curtain, because this, this just feels like the resident barfly refusing to go home despite the last bell has been rung, and the staff really want to go home.