As an Eminem fan, and someone who appreciates all of his records (yes even "Recovery" and "MMLP2"), I was greatly anticipating his latest album: "Revival." And, despite what critics and fans are saying, I think it's a great Eminem album. Its 19 tracks are, for the most part, rife with Em's second-to-none technical prowess and lyrical ability. It also checks off a big box of mine, which was for Em to maintain his now aging rap style instead of adopting anti-lyrical modern rap trends. There's enough here to keep me content.
Yes, Eminem does continue to infuse pop into his music, much to the distaste of his hardcore fans. But I'm not so hardcore of a hip-hop fan where I dismiss the infusion of catchy pop hooks. In fact, I think they can sometimes add meaningful impact to his songs.
Look at his massive pop-rap hit "Love the Way You Lie" for example. When Eminem raps, he's best at translating one emotion and one emotion only: anger. So when Rihanna jumps in with her soft and mellow chorus, it helps balance out the song, changing the tone from what would have been pure anger, to something more along the lines of angry regret – certainly more befitting of a song about the collision of love and hate.
Therefore (getting back on track), I don't throw my arms up in angry disapproval when I see features from the likes of P!nk, Ed Sheeran, and of course, long-time collaborator Skylar Grey.
In fact, I was a big fan of his previous pop-infused album "The Marshall Mathers LP 2." MMLP2 sampled classic rock on a large scale, with beats crafted from songs like "Time of the Season" by The Zombies and "Life's Been Good" by Joe Walsh, and I thought it all worked pretty well. In "Revival" Eminem continues that trend in songs like "In My Head," which samples The Cranberries.
However, to my disappointment, there was one trend he didn't continue in "Revival."
Most Eminem albums are split into two different types of songs: goofy and offensive "Slim Shady" songs and introspective and personal "Marshall Mathers" songs. In the latter type, Em immerses us into his own personal dramas – almost always involving his parents, his ex-wife Kim Mathers, or his daughter Hailie. In "MMLP2," Eminem, rightfully, abandoned these worn-out rants.
He even wrote a song apologizing to his mom. Instead, the album showed a new Eminem, someone who is well-aware that he's in his 40's, rich, and on top of the rap game. That was a grown-up Em and I hoped I would see that same Em throughout his next album.
But in "Revival," he goes back to ranting about Kim, Hailie, and the usual drama. Now that Em is 45, it's strange to see him continue to rap about the same things he was rapping about in his 20's. The emotional impact of these types songs has been well watered down.
In addition, perhaps out of an awareness that these topics are getting increasingly repetitive, Eminem did something that he's never done before: rap about politics.
There are quite a few songs in this album directed at Donald Trump, and they don't really have a place in the Eminem canon. Maybe he did it to maintain relevance, or maybe he did it because he genuinely cares about social justice issues, but never has Eminem ever adopted a persona of someone who cares about social justice. Instead, the persona that Eminem has cultivated throughout his extensive career, has been someone who is deeply controversial.
His songs have been violent, misogynistic, hedonistic... you name it. So when he comes after Trump, it's not impactful, it's laughable. It's especially pathetic because there are still offensive and violent "Shady" songs mixed into the tracklist. You'll have one song where he goes on a moral crusade, and then in the next track he says "Cut my public defender's jugular then stuck him up in a blender."
Taking a moral high ground is something I never expected Eminem to even attempt; it's uncharacteristic, and it's pretty sad to see him try.
Although there isn't a lot here that adds anything new to the Eminem canon, there are still some worthy songs. In my favorite song of the album, "Arose," Eminem sheds light on his near-death drug overdose with vivid description.
In "Castle," Em goes through his entire career in a series of self-written letters to his daughter Hailie. It's a great and worthy throwback to "Stan."
In "River," Em comes up with another one of his hilariously good instances of wordplay: "This love triangle left us in a wreck tangled."
There's definitely a lot I like about "Revival," but I'm disappointed to see him try to get into politics after having made a career out of being the guy that sticks up his middle finger and doesn't care. It's also sad to see him waste his talents rapping, for the umpteenth time, about the same personal drama.
Nonetheless, in whatever form, Shady's back and I'm glad.