Tuesday, December 19, 2017
Music Review: Eminem - Revival
Anyone who knows me well, is aware that I am often slow on the uptake when it comes to certain musical acts. I'll go years without an appreciation for a popular band or artist and then one day suddenly something clicks for me and I become obsessed with them. It happened with Nine Inch Nails in 2009, it happened with Led Zeppelin and Rush in 2012, last year it was Stevie Wonder, and in 2017 it was Eminem. Yes, that's right, a mere 18 years after Marshall Mathers took the world by storm, I became a huge fan. So I'm a little behind, screw you.
I have historically not ever been a rap guy. It's a genre that, by and large, I've found varying degrees of obnoxious. But after Hamilton blew down that door I found myself much more accepting of the form, and with Eminem's viral anti-Trump freestyle video from the BET awards making the rounds I said to myself, "Ya know Justin, it might be time to give this fella an honest listen." So I did, perusing his entire back catalog (2010's Recovery is my favorite album of his), and then discovering a couple months ago that he would be releasing a new album before the end of 2017. Thus Revival, as it was to be called, became one of the most anticipated albums of the year for me.
But how is it?
Well, in keeping with much of Eminem's recent releases, the 45-year-old has tempered his lyrical venom on Revival, mostly offering a more restrained, somberly introspective approach than his outlandish, darkly comic early output. Em's work has always been steeped in autobiography, but on the last few records and especially here, he attempts to make amends for some of his past transgressions.
"Bad Husband" for example is a bittersweet ode to his ex-wife Kim (known to Mathers aficionados as his everpresent antagonistic muse) for his failures as a spouse ("Not bad people, just bad together"), featuring a poignant chorus hook from X Ambassadors. Another such tune is the Cranberries-assisted "In Your Head," where he more or less apologizes to his daughter Hailey for thrusting her into the spotlight for so many years ("Hailie, baby, I didn't mean to make you eighty percent of what I rapped about"). Then there is the emotional one-two punch of the album's dovetailing closing tracks, "Castle" and "Arose," which deal with Em's drug overdose and road to recovery, while imagining what might've happened had he not made it out alive ("Consider the last four minutes as/That's the song I'd have sang to my daughters/If I'd have made it to the hospital/Less than two hours later"). This album is rife with melancholy self-examination, including the opening single "Walk on Water" (featuring Beyonce) wherein Eminem strips away the cocky stage persona he's built up for so long and becomes his own worst critic.
Eminem's signature rage is on display as well though; Revival features a pair of scathing political pieces, the first being a commentary on police brutality and racism called "Untouchable" ("You don't have to know our plans or what our intentions are/Our cards are close to our chest, you better show your hands/And put our minds more at ease/Or get shot in the thyroid, comply or die, boy"), the second a surprisingly hopeful but no less scornful rebuke of Donald Trump, "Like Home," featuring a sanguine chorus from Alicia Keys that hammers home the message that we as Americans will rise above this troubling time. Even Em's verses, while taking Trump to task, ultimately carry a positive, patriotic spin that all listeners can relate to ("But you ain't ruining our country, punk/You won't take our pride from us/You won't define us").
And of course Revival has a few of Em's uniquely mischievous tracks, like the rapid-fire, subversive "Offended" ("I guess I better go harder than ever 'cause I'll never get/Another mothafuckin' opportunity again/To offend as many people with this I can, simply because I can"), the pervy "Heat," hilariously based off a deliberately terrible Mark Wahlberg-John C. Reilly song from Boogie Nights ("All day, all day, all night/You ask, I stay the night/With you, you say you're vile/Me too, you're burning up"), and the horrorcore of "Framed" ("But hey man I was framed/I know what this looks like officers please just give me one minute/I think I can explain/I ain't murdered nobody I know these words are so nutty/But I'm just here to entertain"). While he's toned down the outrage-inducing content of Marshall Mathers 1, Eminem still provides plenty of his uncomfortably macabre comedy on Revival.
Overall this album fits snugly in Em's catalog, with plenty of memorable variety spanning its 77 minutes (which flies by, by the way). For me it doesn't quite have the emotional punch of Recovery or the dazzling wordplay of the two MM LPs, but the world's most famous rapper still has plenty of creative juice in the tank, coupled with a growing self-awareness and maturity that's refreshing to hear. Like so many artists in their later careers, his top influence is now clearly himself, and I ain't complaining.
I give the album ***1/2 out of *****.
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