Does Eminem have a template he works to when making an album? If so he has certainly stuck firmly to it… yet again.
It strikes me that while Eminem is well into his forties, has sold tens of millions of albums around the world, he doesn’t seem to have ever truly left the trenches of rap battles. This is a double edged sword. On one side he is at his most ferocious, eloquent and powerful when in full flow attacking his critics. On the other, that schtick is getting so very tedious and repetitive.
In the same way audiences and fans now roll their eyes at every Muse track at being yet another absurdist conspiracy theory about some vague overarching power, with Em it’s a checkbox list of:
- Defence against critics track: check
- Attack song punching down on newbies in the game: check
- Song about his mum: check
- Song about his dad / step dad: check
- Song needlessly using prejudice: check
- Song with toilet humour: check
- Song covering his victory over adversity: check
- Skits which have been optional on recent records but they are back with a vengeance: check
The fact it is somewhat to formula does not mean that it is a bad record. Each track is excellently produced and elements of Eminem’s prior work are peppered throughout providing musical fan-service. The Alfred Hitchcock sections are a more mature and enjoyable take on album skits, however, while providing fun packaging, they, and the album title, are not reflected in any meaningful thematic way in the music itself.
Overall the album is a decent Eminem record. However, there is nothing here that you wouldn’t go to prior records for. Every theme and idea has been better executed on previous records.
Godzilla is not as good for his supersonic rapping ability as Rap God. Premonition fails to hit the same powerful notes and phrasing on Eminem reflecting on his place in the world as Bad Guy does. Leaving Heaven fails to soar as high either musically or lyrically as The Monster. Those are just three examples to make my point and I didn’t need to dig back to Em’s heyday to do it. In fact those comparisons are all to MMLP2… so maybe Marshall Mathers is a better artist than Slim Shady?
Those Kinda Nights comes after the first mid-album Hitchcock interlude and features Ed Sheeran. It is a law of music that Ed must appear at a regular frequency or else the industry will implode. Weirdly he seems to have found his rightful home here. If he packs in the stadium filling schtick he seems set on attempting and dedicates his life to being a mid-range hip hop backing singer I can see him having a promising career. In all seriousness, his feature here singles his voice out as market saturated enough to distract from the lead artist while proving his voice and ability is bland enough to play second fiddle on a track. That said there is something compelling about his feature and the track overall is enjoyable.
Other track highlights include Darkness which takes on the subject of school shootings in a style reminiscent of Stan without laying on it hard. Good thing too – could you imagine the feud between Marshall Mathers and Slim Shady for stealing each others’ ideas?
Unaccommodating is one of the better productions on the album with a beautiful backing track and a very good flow save for few line that get him in to hot water with critics and the general population alike.
Showed them all the blueprint and formula
But it seems like the more they studied my music
The more they remind me of eyeballs
I’m watching my pupils get cornier (uh)
But I’m contemplating yelling, “bombs away, ” on the game
Like I’m outside of an Ariana Grande concert waiting
Those middle lines about eyeballs and corneas is a trite line and Eminem has better in him than that. Critics are rightfully landing on his for that. I guess we’ll just chalk it up with “Now you get to watch her leave
Out the window, guess that’s why they call it window pane” as an epic misfire. Then you have the equally misjudged two lines talking in trivial terms about one of a series of terrible events to hit the music industry a couple of years ago. Enough has been written on this it doesn’t need more however it does form part of my deeper criticism of him.
Eminem’s insecurity baffles me. He has a proven track record, he has reached the pinnacle, he can do whatever he wants, he is idolised by all the young guns he takes pops at and yet how he handles it is not befitting his position. He lashes out at those chasing him as if they are any real competition for an artist of his vintage and repute. He could much better use his lexicographical dexterity (yea I got some of that myself!) for causes other than the same old tropes and trenches he has ploughed well in the past to superior effect. Like, I don’t know, write about the Manchester Concert Bombing, the causes, the impact and the cultural shifts that led up to it and how things have changed since. There’s probably a whole album to be built out of that which could bring him a new relevance with a younger generation yet he reduces it down to a joking doublet to cause a flash of ‘controversy’ instead.
That is the crux of my frustration here. He used to be the most controversial artist of his time. He was Elvis and had the chops to carry the weight of media scrutiny. He has grown up and matured and shown this beautifully on recent records. Yet he fails to use his considerable talent to hit things that matter. To cause constructive controversy. To punch upwards. He resorts instead to reiterating well-trodden past grievances and focussing on genre infighting and pettiness.
I’m aware of how Eminem responds to critics but hey, if he feels aggrieved enough at my observations to fire back I’d be honoured (and the exposure might give me some exposure and credibility in this music commentary game!). As that won’t happen, it’s a risk I’ll happily take. I’m not even strictly having a go at him, I’m just questioning why he feels the need to hit back at his detractors at all and otherwise take the approach he chooses to.
Ultimately it’s another Eminem record. He is an artist that has firmly reached the category of “shut up and play the hits” in most people’s eyes. What a wonderful position to be in! With the arsenal of crowd pleasing hits for live shows and a reputation that keeps his more radio friendly records on the airwaves he can afford to stop being on the defence, relax and put his energy into moving firmly to a Dre position of producer and supporter there is only so much I can say about this collection of echoes of former glory and folly.