Eminem was once an angry rapper who spouted out homophobic and misogynistic rhymes that wouldn’t fly in today’s world. Still, his lyrics displayed such a raw anger that people were able to overlook all his negative aspects. And despite some nasty lyrics, he made people think about themselves and society on the whole. The Marshall Mathers LP not only won him a huge audience, but he earned the type of critical acclaim that rap artists weren’t accustomed to in the early 2000s.
Unfortunately, because of changing social norms, his music hasn’t aged that well. Revival, Eminem’s first full album in four years, is an attempt to show that the former Slim Shady can still twist tongues and raise fists without homophobic or misogynist language. It has received negative reviews from The Guardian, Variety, and many other sources.
Though Eminem’s music may not fit everybody’s taste, the negative reception of Revival is unfortunate. In a time we need older stars to show us that age is just a number, Revival reveals Eminem as a past-his-prime star who is desperate to prove he still “has it.” Even worse, he drags huge stars as Beyonce, Pink, and Ed Sheeran with him.
The album opener and first single, “Walk on Water,” features a distant Beyonce singing verses while Eminem surveys his life and career. He tries to sound introspective, but the song sounds like Eminem doing a Macklemore parody. But at least things get turned up a little on “Believe,” where Eminem talks about how he has gone from a welfare recipient to living in a gated community. The song lets the listener know that Eminem hasn’t forgotten where he came from.
However, Eminem completely misses the mark on “Untouchable,” which would be an admirable effort about the effects of racism on the African-American community if it were performed by another star. It’s a topic Eminem has covered before, but in an age where the rapper is being called out (perhaps undeservedly) for past cultural appropriation, it feels like Mr. Mathers is trying to deflect criticism. There isn’t an ounce of sincerity displayed throughout the song.
On “River,” which is introduced with Ed Sheeran, Mr. Mathers tries his hand as a serious artist, but wastes Sheeran more than he does Beyonce. But the next song, “Remind Me,” which heavily samples Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll,” is a breath of fresh air. This is the first time on the album where Eminem sounds like the clever artist he was eons ago. But that doesn’t last.
“Like Home,” an anti-ode to President Trump, ironically talks about the orange boss’s bad behavior. It’s catchy and uses Alicia Keys in the same way Jay-Z used her in “Empire State of Mind” almost 10 years ago. But it’s too bad Alicia got dragged in with Em’s hypocrisy. It’s interesting that a song that bashes Trump for discrimination doesn’t talk about the LGBT community – one which Eminem has been degrading for decades. And how can one not mention anti-Semitism when talking about Charlottesville? Perhaps Eminem thinks his core audience could care less about the welfare of Jews.
Luckily, there is one more gem to be found among this misguided mess. If you liked Eminem’s raps about celebrity culture in the 2000s, you’ll love “Framed,” in which Em raps, “Spotted me inside McDonalds, Tuesday in a Toronto Blue Jays cap/Lookin’ like your college roommate with Rihanna, Lupe, Saddam Hussein, Bobby Boucher, or was it Cool J?”
With “Framed,” at least Eminem makes you laugh while wanting to thump your feet. However, much of the rest of the album is too contrived and self-serving for enjoyment. Even the misguided socially conscious songs are more about Eminem than the social issues they are supposed to represent.
Revival is, perhaps, the biggest musical mistake by a major act since U2’s album Pop in 1997. However, U2’s misfire was more forgivable since their hearts and talents were in the right place. Revival makes one ask if Eminem is self-destructing his legacy for some unknown reason. Let’s hope the bad reception for Revival marks a turning point for Eminem’s downfall, and that he will, once again, deliver a brilliant album in the next couple of years.