Review Summary: Destroying shit even as it’s built.
If you want a sense of where America has gone since Eminem last released an album, the notes are brief; spurred by globalization, and the cultural motioning toward decency and respect, more than 60 million voters looked at a ballot that put a polished, milquetoast bureaucrat up against a crude, boorish game show host, and sided with the game show host. Many have since passed comment on that blunder. Many haven’t had anything profound to say about it. Four years earlier, when the President in question was black and the feelings weren't as anxious or as urgent, the symptoms were still there and still ignored by guys like Eminem, who were more furiously occupied with public perceptions of their own vanity and other similarly boring ideas. And that’s without discussing the state of rap music, which itself hasn’t changed as much as it has embraced further the sounds Eminem was consciously ignoring on The Marshall Mathers LP 2
. When that album was released, the collective shrug given to its mix of late ‘80s inspired, retro-rap-rock spoke to a lack of enthusiasm for agro posturing, and the critical mood was not in Eminem’s favour. The appetite for Rick Rubin and Billy Squire samples was in small demand, and Beastie Boys throwback never really took off.
In truth, those two cultural movements have inspired Eminem’s album as much as they have most albums these days. You can rather easily boil down the influences for major label rap, pop, and rock music in 2017, and come to the same conclusion each time: Donald Trump. Fortunately, though, most artists can imbue some sense of good will in developing thematic consequence around the man; as an example of this, N*E*R*D’s comeback album, ostensibly revolutions in pop production paired with politically inspired jibes and one-liners, doesn’t service its lyrical topics very well, but at least attempts to grapple with their importance. The music’s also listenable, so there’s that. Conversely, for Eminem, the topical Trump tilt has never sounded more like a crutch for music that doesn’t deserve discussion. Of course, if you’re 45 and disinterested in popular music, the narrative is different, as it would appear those that don’t listen to music regularly seem most infatuated with this overtly political turn Marshall Mathers has since taken.
Needless to say, that attention is undeserved and misplaced. “The Storm,” Eminem’s Trump cypher, was a failure. There’s nothing else to it. It has no flow, the lyrics are terrible, and the intent isn’t important. A lot of people hate Donald Trump; I doubt the people of Idaho care. Its positioning as an anthem of the ‘Resistance’— which, in the vaguest, most embarrassing sense of the term, it definitely is— has little influence over the thematic consequence of Revival
, ostensibly an attack on Trump, but really more of an assault on good taste. Behind an album cover, which shows a wincing, incredulous Mathers pushing his forehead into his palms, billows the American flag. It means nothing, just as “The Storm’s” ‘awfully hot coffee pot
’ didn’t have anything to do with the Trump presidency. The mise en scene of Eminem rapping whilst a dozen black men watch on, nodding solemnly, isn’t insightful and I’m bothered that we even continue to entertain it as such. Especially because on “Heat,” possibly the worst song on Revival
(not a minor achievement), he pretty much trades in that Woke Lyrical Genius shtick to make a shockingly inane joke about grabbing pussy. There’s a line on that song about ‘meeting her like a Taxi
,’ so the hypocrisy doesn’t chew all of the scenery, but it’s still reductive to Revival’s
attempts to be anything other than Eminem and 2017’s worst album.
For the record, I understand that sounds hyperbolic, or raving, and so I want to make the case as elegantly as possible whilst remaining necessarily straightforward: Revival
is a musical miscarriage. There are no good songs. There are no ‘moments’ that make any of these 18 songs worth listening to. There’s nothing that implies there is potential, there are no guests that make Eminem worth listening to, there are no good lyrics, there are no good production flourishes, and there aren’t any melodies. There’s no evident flow, and there isn’t anything to be gained from listening to this that can’t be done by listening to literally anything else. It’s a hulking mess of every bad moment Eminem has explored since he became one of the most boring, deliberative rappers alive (when that happened is sometimes difficult to agree upon), some 80-minutes spent staccato freestyling over lazily sampled rock beats and sub-“Love the Way You Lie” power ballads. Front to back, Revival
is a fu
In part, that’s because the whole reason for Revival’s
existence-- supposedly, anger at the Trump presidency-- is relegated to a single song, the lone political polemic being “Like Home.” It’s not a good song. Alicia Keys appears in between a knotty, verbose, word salad in which ‘Trump’ is apparently the thematic focus. It’s not as bad as “The Storm,” which is an active chore to listen to, but what is the difference when it’s pretty much the only vaguely political moment on an album apparently inspired by the state of US politics? There’s “Untouchable,” sure, but that song is about criminal justice and racism, those more nuanced problems that seem to elude bad writers. It’s also similarly difficult to listen to, looping on for 6-minutes and giving Eminem space in which to stammer, stumble, and deliver embarrassing maxims on political blather.
That passion for overly lyrical rapping hamstrings Revival
. Positioned at the front of the record, “Believe” and “Chloraseptic” are so overwrote and crammed with words, it’s difficult to pick just one moment in which either song fails. They're without rhyme and are unrhythmic to an almost comical degree, and they inherently fail as a matter of even existing. It's especially bad on "Chloraseptic," which just drags into its sixth minute and pretty much destroys any capital Phresher might develop by relegating him to a nonpoint chorus, whilst also proving that Eminem doesn’t need trap drums to sound completely irrelevant. It’s sad to think that, along with “Untouchable,” these two songs are far and away the best songs on the album, possibly because there’s noble failure in Eminem projecting that he’s listened to Culture
and attempted to serve the base. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t, but it is at least moderately entertaining to hear him aggressively shout aggravated triplets that are otherwise the audio equivalent of the mocking and insensitive practice of blackface.
Most of the rest of Revival
, besides the appallingly bad sampling evident on “In Your Head” and “Remind Me,” rests on the standard Eminem procedure; Alex da Kid’s compressed, lifeless beats, paired with sombre piano keys and minor-key balladry, most often accompanied with a pop starlet about 10-years too late belting a skyscraper and ear-bleeder of a chorus. There are a lot of very poor examples of this, but a ménage of bad production choices and awkwardly arranged choruses make choosing any one particular song difficult; “Bad Husband,” which boasts an exhausting choral hook and piano tinkling might be the best candidate, however “Tragic Endings,” or “Nowhere Fast,” or “Need Me” are all just as pained and stilted in their composition. On Revival
, these ballads are even worse than usual, because Rihanna isn’t complicit in order to make them sound better. Instead, we get appearances from the likes of P!nk and Ed Sheeran, and the outcome becomes a difficult listen due to a confluence of bizarrely mixed sounds and quiet instrumentation. Be mindful though that Eminem’s still not good, so any single guest performance is just as bad as any of his strained, laboured bars.
It’s difficult to deign from this miasmic, confused album just what it is that Eminem’s trying to say. The evident purpose is that he is trying to reflect on his own position in the world, and to at least attempt to resolve it with the White Guilt that the Trump presidency has awoken in some of us. If that is Eminem’s philosophy, and he seriously thinks he has a voice that should be heard in 2017, then he has not expressed it clearly nor made much of an effort in to interrogate it meaningfully. There’s nothing redeemable, worthy, or valuable about an Eminem album in 2017. Besides failing to maintain any technical proficiency at rapping whatsoever-- a minor respite to prior efforts-- he has embraced a parade of no-name, no-value, unimportant producers and features, who otherwise sink him and emphasise his own bad instincts. This was the exact same problem we heard on The Marshall Mathers LP 2
, and Recovery
, and Relapse
, and every single album before it in which we had to ask ourselves, ‘What’s happened to Eminem?’ There’s no foreseeable fix to this because Eminem has so wholly and completely internalised everything that has degraded and wrecked his career for the last decade. He’s exorcised good taste, and replaced it with an unsophisticated political and personal posturing that, ironically enough, will only ever be marketable in flyover country. And in that reality, Revival
exists, the metaphorical flush of Eminem’s career down the cultural toilet.