Eminem's "Revival" Doesn't Quite Revive His Relevancy
Encore loves this new Eminem album. That hot mess from 2004 held the title as Eminem’s nadir even after the cringey emo anthems on 2010’s Recovery and the muddled rehash of 2013’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2. But Encore was always a clear step below into the muck of tired jokes and infantile trolling, the point where the drugs no longer fueled the artist but just turned him into an embarrassment. Still, at least there are a few good songs on Encore, which is a few more than you’ll find on Revival.
I admit I’ve never been a big Eminem fan. He was born as a battle rapper and that aesthetic has always informed his work. So his music has that instant punch that pops the crowd, but it never had much depth or re-listen value for me. 2009’s Relapse is the last Eminem album I actually liked, with all Dr. Dre beats and unhinged flows in which the silliness and shock factor masks the complexity and craft. But in hindsight that was the tipping point, after which complexity consumed itself. 2013’s “Rap God” embodies my frustration with new school Eminem – the song is so technically proficient that it feels like nothing more than showing off, like a speedy lead guitar solo. Eminem turned into Joe Satriani with more curse words.
And now he has nothing else left to say. Revival’s lead single “Walk On Water” seemed to suggest as much, and as underwhelming as that song might have seemed at first, it’s actually one of the “highlights” of the album. That’s bad. Because it’s still not a good song – it feels like a sketch or a demo, the lyrics full of self-doubt and creative ennui. Fine, but it’s just not anywhere near as compelling or powerful as 2002’s “Lose Yourself,” which mined the same territory. The failures of Revival are that transparent – the concepts are bad and the execution is poor.
So Revival is not bad in the way Encore was. At least the beats were good on that album, so “Ass Like That” and “Rain Man” sort of worked in spite of the throwaway lyrics. But the music on Revival is terrible. It sounds like four or five different bad albums, made even worse by crowbarring in Em verses. Could we ever imagine the day when a track “...(feat Pink)” is not the worst song on the album? That day is here. Because the Rick Rubin produced “Remind Me” is so clueless, so crass, so out of touch that it sounds like an old dad crashing the sleepover with bad karaoke. “In Your Head” samples the Cranberries, that 90s group best known from the aisles of grocery stores. (That song was produced by Scram Jones, whom I like so I’m glad he got a check, but the song still sucks.) The only half decent track is “Framed,” which sounds like a Relapse reject but it just gets lost in the mess. I don’t think I made it all the way through most of these songs, much as I tried for the sake of the review. This is demoralizingly bad music.
Even the rapping is bad. And that’s a significant change from his last album MM2, which despite its flaws at least had Eminem rapping his ass off. On Revival his rapping is just ass. So many verses are drowned in self pity or trite reflection. How many “apology songs” is this guy going to make? And oh, he’s gonna try to be a better father for his daughter. We’ve heard all this shit before and now more than ever it just feels like product. There’s zero insight even in the political tracks, which jab at Trump and racial injustice but it just feels like shadowboxing. (And definitely not Wu Tang “Shadowboxin’”! How dare you!)
The fight’s over, Eminem won, he’s a legend. But this album is like old Rocky Balboa selling insurance or something. I’ll pass.