Eminem “Revival” review

(Photo credit: LAMinuteInfo)

Marshall Mathers continues his prolonged rut on another bloated, boring album with few highlights.

Although Eminem’s previous album, “The Marshall Mathers LP 2,” had some late-career highlights, it was an overlong mess of muck and inconsistencies. Eminem has never been one to respond well to critics, and it shows on “Revival,” another needlessly long album full of unnecessary tracks, lumpy beats and weak-ass rhymes. After Eminem’s brutal anti-Trump freestyle for the BET Hiphop Awards, people expected a powerful political album. “Revival” is not devoid of politics, but compared to that freestyle, most of the politics on this album feel obligatory. “Offended” makes references to Ivanka Trump and Rachel Dolezal that have Em’s typical bite to them, but nothing about the references feels like anything besides boxes being checked. “Untouchable” starts promisingly, with Em checking his white privilege and rapping from the point of view of an abusive cop – until he switches to the POV of a black victim which, yikes. That said, easily the album’s best song is “Like Home,” a duet with Alicia Keys. It takes the album far too long to get to it, but it’s one of the biggest songs and easily the most relevant. Eminem, as a white man, safely blasts off against Trump and fascism, with references to Confederate statues and even the murder of Heather Heyer at Charlottesville. YG’s “FDT” feels tame in comparison to the preciseness and fire of the song.

Eminem spends a lot of this album grappling with the pros and cons of his own legacy to, again, mixed result. Eminem tries to buy good grace from the audience in the opening track, lead single “Walk on Water,” which features both BeyoncĂ©, and Eminem listing off musicians he considers better than himself. It feels kind of cheap and pandering (also considering that both that track and the follow-up one use the r-slur). Later on, he grapples with his personal mistakes on the solid tracks “Bad Husband” and “Castle.” Like any Eminem album, though, the grievances feel hollow considering some of the lyrical content in other tracks.

“Framed” is what I like to call one of Eminem’s “meat and bones” songs, in the sense that it’s yet another song about dismembering people. He references framing Steven Avery (from “Making a Murderer”) and locking Ivanka Trump in the trunk of his car (didn’t learn from “Stan,” apparently). So that’s cool. The album has a very out-of-place track called “Heat,” a boring rock song in the vain of the rock influences in Run-DMC and Beastie Boys (and samples both). But unlike those acts, it’s misogyny on full blast with lyrics that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Steel Panther album (and delivered with more seriousness). Eminem has never shied away from violence and misogyny in his music, and has in fact made a career off of it. But, the country, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, is shying away from the type of violent sexism Eminem puts on blast. Tracks like these two render not only his more apologetic songs, but his whole late career irrelevant.

Eminem’s rapping on this album isn’t even very good. His previous LP was saved largely by his instantly-famous cannon-blast verse on “Rap God.” He only has one track like that here, “Offended,” and it shows up a whole fifteen tracks into the album, long after people on the fence would’ve given up. Between the placement of that, penultimate track “Castle” and “Like Home,” it becomes very apparent that this album needed to be trimmed of fat. Rap albums are turning around and shortening in length, thanks to more innovative artists like Vince Staples and Earl Sweatshirt who go for quality and quantity, and dunk on acts like Future who regularly release 1+ hour albums (Jay-Z’s album “4:44” this year clocked in at under 40 minutes, for the record).

So many of these songs could’ve been saved by the music, but it’s not there. On the sample-less songs (save the X Ambassadors-basked “Bad Husband”), the beats are deflated and quiet. On many different points throughout the album, it feels like Eminem was banking on the producers, and the producers were banking on Eminem. In fact, some of the album’s best moments revolve around samples of better songs. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts’ “I Love Rock & Roll,” The Cranberries’ “Zombie,” Charles Bradley’s “In You (I Found a Love)” and Run-DMC’s “King of Rock” all show up to liven the party. There’s also the question of features. There’s a handful of features here, some of which work better than others. Long-time collaborator Skyler Grey brings him out of his shell on “Tragic Endings,” one of the stronger tracks. BeyoncĂ© shines, naturally, and X Ambassadors make a surprisingly good back-up group. The painful-to-type collaboration between Em and Ed Sheeran just sounds like an Ed Sheeran song, though, which is unpleasant. P!nk and Kehlani also get unfortunately wasted on boring tracks.

Eminem’s legacy can’t really be tarnished by this point. Mediocre music isn’t ever going to outshine the myriad of controversies he’s stoked and soldiered on through. He doesn’t still have to try, and he mostly doesn’t here. Albums like this make people wonder why he felt the need to go into the studio. Outside of some occasionally cliche lyrics, this album isn’t necessarily bad, it’s all rather dull and pointless. The shock-value songs run parallel to the ones on Marilyn Manson‘s album a few weeks ago – just plain outdated. “Like Home” might stand out to the public and could even go down as an Eminem classic (even if it isn’t released as a single), but other than that, even the good songs here aren’t that great. Eminem has officially hit a legacy status shared by mostly classic rock bands – the “Oh, I love him! Wait, he still releases music?” platform.

Grade: C-

-By Andrew McNally

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