Review Summary: A great album that could be superb were it not for a couple of absolute stinkers.
CAUTION: You will NOT agree with my opinions on certain songs, some of which are fan-favourites. Also I have a tendency to use lots of semi-colons. You have been warned.
Disregarding "Curtains Up", The Eminem Show has the most searing opening track in Eminem's discography. "White America" was the perfect statement back in 2002; Eminem had released The Slim Shady LP three years previously, and The Marshall Mathers LP the year after, and as he says in "White America", 'all I hear is, lyrics, lyrics, constant controversy'. Eminem was labelled as a misogynist, a nihilist, an advocate of domestic violence, you name it, the parents of America probably said it at one point or another. However, by those of us who weren't blinded by idiocy, it was clear that Eminem was an excellent lyricist and hip-hop artist in general, as well as a great showman who possessed a great sense of humor and a good understanding of irony. However, while this was all important back in 2002 when the album came out, in retrospect I'm simply going to examine the quality of the music, because while the controversy fizzles out and people forget, the records still exist to be listened to. So without further ado, I bring to you, track two, "Business". This one of my personal favourites from the Eminem Show, as it features a fantastic beat produced by the one and only Dr. Dre (in fact, one of only three Dre beats on TES, the other two being "Say What You Say" and "My Dad's Gone Crazy"), and Eminem, as ever, Eminem flows right over the beat like butter. The lyrics are also great, and very funny, after the more serious tone of "White America".
Next is "Cleaning Out My Closet", and for me, this is one of a great number of Eminem tracks that have fantastic lyrics, but are let down by subpar beats and/or hooks; the song itself is a message from Eminem to his mother, as he feels she neglected him as a child, and that she spent his childhood popping pills and faking illnesses ('Goin' through public housing systems, victim of Munchhausen's syndrome'), and whether these allegations are true or not, they certainly make for some emotionally charged lyrics. Where the song falls down, however, is the uninspired beat and cliched-sounding hook; you may disagree, but ultimately this song never quite did it for me. Track five, "Square Dance", appears to suffer from something of an identity crisis; half the lyrics are a quite poignant criticism of the Bush administration, and the US Military's drafting process ('You just a baby, gettin' recruited at eighteen/You're on a plane now, eatin' their food and their baked beans/I'm twenty-eight, they're gonna take you 'fore they take me'), and the other half are about the rap game and Eminem's then notorious beef with Can-I-Bus (when I saw Em at Leeds Festival, 'Can-I-Bitch don't want no beef with Slim, no!' was my absolute favourite singalong moment). The beat itself is really cool, I like the piano part, and I also love the end part, where Em samples and/or impersonates various rappers, including Dr. Dre, Nas, Xzibit, Busta Rhymes, D12, and Can-I-Bitch, who of course certainly doesn't want to square dance with Em. Following this is a skit which attempt to recreate Eminem's altercation with a bouncer he caught kissing Kim.
And here we have the first of the aforementioned stinkers, "Soldier"; I feel like this one too many political songs, after "White America" AND "Square Dance" (but thankfully the last, until 2004 at least), and it is utterly boring and uninspiring. Luckily the album picks right up again with "Say Goodbye to Hollywood", which lyrically has to be the most personal song Em ever wrote, over one of the best beats he ever made. Eminem being sick of the limelight and talking about his daughter and everything is of course well-trod ground, but here he perfected this theme (kind of makes you wonder why he constantly feels the need to revisit it, really), and really it's lucky that this song is so good, because track ten, "Drips", is absolutely unbearable, unforgivable, and yet somehow, it's not even the worst song Eminem would ever record. It's not even the worst song on the album! Honestly, I can't even bring myself to listen to it for the purpose of the review.
The next track is a breath of fresh air, as "Without Me" is more in the same ballpark as "Business", with a great bouncing beat and clever, albeit less serious, lyrics. This song often gets undue criticism for being a poppy, appeal to the masses, radio single, to follow the success of "My Name Is" and "The Real Slim Shady", but when the song doesn't take itself seriously, I can't either. In fact, if anyone can take a song seriously where Eminem sings the Batman theme in the middle of a verse, then they're sort of missing the point. After a pointless skit about Em carrying his gun to the studio, comes "Sing For the Moment". Remember earlier I mentioned unpopular opinions I might have? Here's one. As far as I'm concerned, this song is unbelievably corny; and not in the wink and a smile tongue in cheek kind of corny, I mean the 'this song is so deep man' kind of corny, and it ends up sounding a bit silly. I mean, an Aerosmith chorus? Really? Also the subject matter is done to death, he covered all this *** on the Marshall Mathers LP; music doesn't cause violence, the parents and the government are the problem, not the kids' role models, etc, etc, et ***ing cetera, I mean at least in 2000, Eminem did it in a sarcastic ***-you kind of way ('But don't blame me when lil' Eric jumps off of the terrace/You shoulda been watchin him - apparently you ain't parents'), but here I get the impression that he was really taking those criticisms seriously, which is ridiculous. Rant over.
Perhaps not. This next song is ***ing horrible. "Superman" is meaningless bull***, it's basically "Drips", but attempts to take itself seriously. And *** Dina Rae's R&B ooh's and aah's, at least on Drug Ballad it was ironic. Anyway, luckily the next song is quite good, after a skit and two stinkers. "Hailie's Song" is oft criticised because it features Eminem singing, and talking about his daughter AGAIN. However, the sentiment in this song is really lovely, and in this Hailie-centric song more than any other, it sounds really genuine. The chorus is really emotional, especially when he sing 'I'm crazy, oh so crazy', and I think the singing was a good choice because it conveys the emotion a lot better than rapping ever could. In the third verse, he gives up the singing and delivers one of the best verses on the album, and it keeps the song fresh; another sung verse would perhaps be too much. It's worth noting that, as far as I'm aware, this is the only Eminem-sung hook which has real vocal harmonies. This skit is one of my favourites, besides the PSAs, and this has to be the only time Steve doesn't criticise the album Em gives him, so kinda sucks that Em chose this meeting to shoot him.
It's been a while since we had a straight up energetic rap song (about five tracks actually), so enter "When the Music Stops". Unfortunately, after Eminem's verse, the song kind of tails off; I never really got D12, it seems odd that one of the greatest rappers in the world (lyrically, flow-wise, etc), would associate himself with subpar rappers like D12, especially Bizarre, who is awful here like he always is on Em features. Regardless, the beat is fantastic; it's worth mentioning that besides the three Dre productions I mentioned earlier, Em produced this whole album himself (with help from Jeff Bass, and Mr. Porter on this song), and he really came into his own as a producer on the Eminem Show. "Say What You Say" has Dr. Dre written all over it right from the start, and of course the beat is excellent, and finally a feature that isn't awful! Of course, Dre doesn't have the calibre to match Em, but he's a competent rapper (in fact I find him to be very underrated, his excellent production often overshadowing his rapping, go listen to N.W.A's "100 Miles and Runnin'" to hear Dre in his element). Anyway, the verses are good, not amazing, but good, but I often skip this one because I know what's coming next.
"'Till I Collapse" is an absolute masterpiece; before "Rap God" dropped in 2013, it was absolutely the most technical and impressive rapping Em ever recorded (following in the footsteps of "Kill You"), and is totally no nonsense, just three verses of Em spitting like a mother***er interspersed with a hook by the king of hip-hop hooks, the late Nate Dogg. Verse three especially is just phenomenal, the rhyming is intricate but it just flows so smoothly. If someone asked me to argue my point as to why Eminem is the greatest rapper ever, I would put this song forward. Taking all this into account, it's such a shame the album ends with such a lame song. "My Dad's Gone Crazy", while the second verse is pretty great, just absolutely annoys the *** out of me. I hate to say it, but the main thing that annoys me is Hailie's guest vocals, her saying "My dad's gone craaayzah" just grates on my nerves by the second chorus. The beat is nothing special. And that's it, the curtain closes on both the album, and indeed Eminem, for 2004's Encore would be quite a different beast, and the start of what many perceive as the downfall of his career.
Also Ken returns at the end. Tell some men.