Rating: 2 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
And so after months of general disinterest from everyone but the rebellious TRL crowd, its finally arrived. Yes folks, Ron Artest’s record label has released its first album : oh and some other cat called Eminem dropped something recently too.
I think I can safely speak for a gang of Hiphop heads when I say that if this album had never been released we wouldn’t have cared less. For many in the Hiphop community, Eminem is done : over : kaput : a shot bolt : a spent force. This is more due to his continuing tactic of aiming for the lowest common denominator with his musical output rather than any clever ‘White Boy is racist’ shock tactics by The Source, Ja-Rule, Benzino or any of the other no-marks who’ve chosen to cross swords recently with Mr Mathers.
His star was already well on the wane when he dropped the absolutely dreadful “The Eminem Show”, and nothing he’s done since that damp squib, whether it be on the mic, or on the boards, or copying every other rapper’s styles in his search for an identity for his D-12 gather-ups, has illustrated that his career shows any signs of pulling out of its rapid downward spiral. Of course, with every Eminem-touched release, be it his own, his boy 50’s, or anything from the good Doctor, it’s a given that he’s gonna make oodles of O’s. However, as with many of our rap heroes, it seems that as Eminem’s financial stock has risen, it has stifled his creativity a thousandfold – no longer required to push the envelope, no longer needing a gem like ‘Just The Two Of Us’ to sell albums, Eminem has created a monster image that is gorging on itself.
Lead single for “Encore”, the godawful ‘Just Lose It’ may well have brought him a shitload of pre-sales interest for the album due to its childish Michael Jackson video mockery, but it also put the final nails into a coffin containing the last remnant of credibility that the man possessed. Simply put – you will not hear a worse song this year. I find it incredible that Dre’s name is down in the production column for this dirge – the bass-lite, pop beat : the idiotic chorus : the ridiculous lyrics : just : why? What purpose does this serve except to SELL THE FUCK OUT?
Many will point out that Em has released a similar cartoonish track as the lead single on every one of his previous albums. True indeed – but those cuts still had a sliver of quality about them, hidden amongst the clowning around. This time around, ‘Just Lose It’ aims squarely at the TRL crowd and nobody else – there’s no art here, no pride in Hiphop culture – just a shitty track built around some lunatic wailings and the ching-ching of cash registers.
As for the rest of the album – well if we can agree that its another journey through Marshall’s mind, made up of tracks insulting his wife, tracks dedicated to his love for his daughter, tracks dissing celebrities, and tracks at times mocking himself and his position in the Hiphop world, then we can also agree that this is familiar and well-trodden ground. Its basically the same blueprint that Em has been following since “The Marshall Mathers LP”, and at some point the question has to be asked – “How long can you continue to make a career out of the same shock-value material?”
The dilemma is clear – with each passing album, with each new award, Eminem’s popularity grows larger amongst an audience who are financially and mentally MILES away from the background of the culture that spawned him. And as more of these people push his releases to the top of each chart, the crowd that he really wants to be part of, to be respected by, to be held in high regard by, alienate him further.
At points throughout “Encore”, this struggle to be accepted by his peers, while continuing to churn out easy-selling pop junk is strikingly evident. ‘Yellow Brick Road’ sees him eloquently break down his spat with the Source over his racist tape, by reminiscing on his teenage days listening to X-Clan; while ‘Like Toy Soldiers’ chronicles his back-and-forth battles with Benzino and Ja-Rule. Unfortunately a struggle-within-a-struggle also comes to light on these tracks – when Eminem goes for the commercial throats, its normally over catchy Dre beats, and its on these tracks that he can get away with talking gibberish, and delivering weak rhymes – the market those tracks are aimed at don’t listen to the lyrics anyway do they? However Eminem’s better lyrical work, exhibited on the tracks above for example, is normally displayed over his own boardwork, which has traditionally been second-rate. Here, unfortunately its no exception – ‘Yellow Brick Road’ for all its lyrically perfection, limps along over a 2004 instrumental remix of ‘Cleaning Out My Closet’ with soggy horns and Fisher Price strings sliding around in the mix; while ‘Like Toy Soldiers’ jacks Martika and places the sample over some undisciplined army drumming : the whole joint is too much ‘at-ease’ to support Em’s powerful lyrics.
‘Mosh’ is interesting only for the anti-Bush message it contains and the clever video (which you really should try to see) – once you’ve seen the video though, you then quickly realise that the song is not actually very good at all. It’s a decent attempt to cover a serious topic (a very serious topic indeed), but the plodding beat quickly renders it little more than skip fodder – even moreso now that Dubya wormed his way back into the White House.
The Dre-produced stuff is surprisingly uneven. For every beat like ‘Never Enough’ (where Em splits time with 50 Cent and Nate Dogg over a quick paced set of drums and synths), the spooky ‘Rain Man’, or the fabulously dark ‘Big Weenie’, there’s a ‘Just Lose It’, ‘Mash’ or ‘Ass Like That’ to tip the balance back in a negative direction. Couple this with the fact that some of these beats are needlessly wasted (‘Rain Man’ with a truly tasteless and uncalled for rant at the late Christopher Reeves, and ‘Big Weenie’ with its puerile chorus) and you’ll see while “Encore” is a not-unexpected letdown.
More evidence for the prosecution is provided with the misogynistic ‘Spend Some Time’ where Eminem’s bland production ‘inspires’ himself, Obie Trice, Stat Quo and 50 to predictable low levels of lyrical dexterity. So you hate them bitches, guys : great. The failed experiment in sound that is ‘Crazy In Love’, the infantile ‘Puke’ (yes we know you don’t like Kim, Marshall), and the pedestrian ‘My 1st Single’ confirm that this is indeed an another overhyped Eminem release.
The only bright spots come near the conclusion – ‘MockingBird’ bucks the trend set so far by not only covering old material again (Em loves Hailie), but doing so over (for once) a decent Em beat. Over a hauntingly simple piano, and understated drums, Eminem speaks from the heart to his daughter reassuring her of his feelings for her and his pledge to protect her. Its genuinely touching – the beat stripped bare, and Marshall’s soul similarly so, have produced probably the best track on the album – here, production actually succeeds in matching the lyrics. The title track, ‘Encore’ meanwhile features the saviours (or scourges, depending on your viewpoint) of Hiphop in 2004 – Dre, Em, and Fiddy combining over anthemic Dre drums with stunning effect.
And with that – the curtain drops on another Eminem longplayer. Another album, and frankly another disappointment – as his album count has increased so has the ratio of shit to hit on each one. The few decent tracks mentioned aside, it’s a case of heard it all before – this album is worse than its predecessor – which was was worse than its predecessor – which was worse than its predecessor : its not a great cycle that Eminem has found himself caught up in, and some serious soul-searching will need to be done before a GOOD Eminem album can ever see the light of day again. If things continue on the road they seem to be on at the moment though, then his next “Encore” may well see his audience breaking out the rotten fruit.