Album: The Eminem Show
Rating: 3.5 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
So here it is. Marshall returns to centre stage with “The Eminem Show”, one of the most widely anticipated albums for years, and one where he’ll really have to work hard to pull off a trick that has killed off many a Hiphop career. Yup the old juggling act – again without a safety net. After building a career from the underground up using only his superb lyrical skills, there can be no doubting that Em is supremely blessed when it comes down to ripping mics. There can also be little doubt however that he has become one of MTV’s posterboys, mainly due to a “bubble-gumming” of his sound, on his last album especially. So the task is this… how do you make an album that allows the “real” Marshall Mathers to rip shit up, while maintaining the TRL-ness of his Slim Shady alter ego, without pissing off fans of both sides of your styles?
Ladies and gentlemen… I give you “The Eminem Show”. Drumroll please…
For the purists among us, things don’t start well. ‘White America’ is a plodding rock track, with Em giving it the old “I don’t believe that I was able to make it, but now I have I’m gonna piss you all off” act. He references, and AGREES with the oft-quoted line that if he was black he wouldn’t spark all the media hype, and namechecks his friends at TRL. The main subject however is his recognition of the influence he has over so many of America’s youth – nice idea, but one that was already covered by Ice T on Home Invasion almost 10 years ago. The shouting on the chorus, the noise of the guitars… its almost trying TOO hard to be rebellious, when in fact its exactly what the pop public want to hear.
Thankfully things pick up with the rubbery bassline and comic book influences of ‘Business’. It’s a standard Dre beat by all accounts – one that’s gonna bang in clubs and cars, but nothing spectacular. After the last track though it sounds almost classic, with the interpolation of the Batman theme running throughout as Dre urges Em on. Most of the lyrics are nonsense – straight up, but its still a spectacular example of Eminem on top form, as he flows with an almost nonchalant air, spitting multi-syllables at will.
For those who liked Em on Jigga’s ‘Renegades’ cut, you’ll recognise the style he exhibits on ‘Cleaning Out My Closet’. Unfortunately the track is marred by a horrific Em-sung chorus, and a boring beat – its all a little too lounge music for my tastes. Once again, he goes for the lowest common denominator, attacking his mother and father, and even has the hypocrisy to say that he would “never diss his mother to gain recognition.” Yeah, right. There’s something a little uncomfortable about this much dirty linen being washed in public. Oh, and don’t think we don’t see 2pac’s influence all over this cut either.
‘Square Dance’ is a return to vintage Eminem form – an amazing flow and devastating lyrics delivered with a dark sense of humour. The beat is amazing, similar to the menacing air that ‘Fight Music’ carried, emitting a real “I’m coming for you” aura. Again, there’s a question mark over the chorus, but this is still one of the stronger cuts on the entire album.
As ‘Square Dance’ plays out, we reach a portion of the album that really does nothing for me at all. There’s a couple of cuts in this middle section that do deserve props – ‘Say Goodbye Hollywood’ tackles the situation that occurred a couple of years ago amid Em’s messy relationship with his now ex-wife, where he caught her with another man. Its referenced in an earlier skit too, but here he goes into depth on his feelings at the time, without really dropping into shock value lyrics – this, and the catchy bassdriven beat are what makes this dope. ‘Drips’ is also a nice little cut, which has Eminem linking up with Obie Trice over an orchestral little gem, to discuss the fictional fact that Em’s pregnant girlfriend has contracted a sexually transmitted disease after sleeping with both Em and Obie.
But like I said, leaving these two cuts aside, the rest of this portion of the album is pretty weak. First up, you have ‘Soldier’ – a cut that screams filler from the very beginning, with its bland, grey beat. Toss in the made-for-MTV lead single ‘Without Me’, the lyrically superb, but musically horrific ‘Sing For The Moment’, Em’s anti-‘I Need Love’ jam, ‘Superman’ which owes a HUGE debt to Everlast, and the strange ‘Hailie’s Song’ where Em feels a compulsion to go all indie rock on us, and things become uncomfortable to the extreme.
‘Without Me’ is this album’s ‘The Real Slim Shady’, and as you may be aware, the lead single. Its pop. There’s no other way to describe it. Supposedly offensive lyrics over a cartoon beat, the whole thing comes off as a deliberate attempt by Em to portray himself as the parents’ public enemy number one that his buddies at MTV have built him up as. ‘Sing For The Moment’ tries real hard to come across as the “anthem” track of the album, and in fact by building the song around the dramatic Aerosmith song ‘Dream On’, you can almost picture all the little Shady fans holding up their lighters at the next Em concert. Unfortunately the whole thing doesn’t quite come off as planned – lyrically its superb, covering in much greater detail the public enemy number one theme already aired at various points throughout the album. Musically however, its much too glam rock for my ears, coming off as something closer to Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’ than a hiphop record. There really are too many rock guitars on this album. ‘Superman’ is a definite skipper – a horrible country styled track, a dreadful chorus… even Em doesn’t sound interested on this. Its ironic too that after trading insults with Everlast last year, this cut sounds like an outtake from ‘Whitey Ford’. ‘Hailie’s Song’ did spark my interest initially, because I was interested to hear how the sample from George Harrison’s ‘As My Guitar Gently Weeps’ was going to be incorporated, but right before I heard this I learned that the late Beatle’s wife had blocked the use of the sample. She must have heard this track and used it as the basis of her decision – Eminem cannot sing, so why try? This is awful. Awful. Awful.
Thankfully the album closes a little more strongly. ‘When The Music Stops’ examines the difficulties that Eminem faces in walking the “keep it real” path, backed up by his D-12 homies, over a piano driven break that sounds like a distant relative of Mobb Deeps’s ‘Quiet Storm’. Meanwhile ‘Say What You Say’ has Eminem linking up again with the good doctor, for one of the more controversial tracks on the album. Here we have Dre dissing Jermaine Dupri (who has already replied, albeit weakly), and more intriguingly Eminem calling out Canibus. The track itself is a lot harder, and has a lot more of a hiphop feel than some of the other cuts on here, and despite the heavy snare it has a real “stripped down” feel to it. Nice shit. ‘Till I Collapse’ continues the sequence of harder tracks – a punchy cousin of Cube’s ‘When Will They Shoot’ and featuring a morose Nate Dogg on the chorus, this is noticeable for Em’s own placing on himself on the emcee league table – “Reggie, Jay-Z, 2Pac and Biggie / Andre from Outkast, Jada, Kurupt, Nas and then me.” Again this is the type of track that will most likely appeal to 13 year olds whose balls haven’t dropped yet – its Em in non-anger management mode again. This time however, the backing track makes it listenable. Rounding off the drama, is ‘My Dad’s Gone Crazy’, where Em actually acknowledges all the crazy rumours that have surrounded him since he shot to fame, including his gay affair with Dre… hmmm… methinks the fellow doth protest too much. We’re also treated to the sounds of Mathers Junior on wax, as Em’s daughter Hailie urges her pops on to spit crazier and crazier lines, over a synth laden backing track.
And there it is. My first opinion hasn’t changed – this is the album that MTV expected, and Em hasn’t disappointed that section of his fanbase. All bases are covered – the angry young male with the foul mouth is here in all his glory, the doting dad has thrown his daughter on wax to squeeze another little bit of controversy out of this album… needless to say, this will sell by the truckload. The thing is though, the replay value here is minimal – there’s nothing to make you return after more than a few listens… a situation best summed up by Eminem himself on ‘Say What You Say’ – “Dre told me to milk this shit for what its worth”. Yeah, Marshall – keep it real.