Eminem’s ninth studio album, Revival to complete a lukewarm trilogy with Relapse  and Recovery . Revival, along with much of Eminem’s recent output, has received a mixed reception. We must ask: do people still care about the Shady Records founder?
Eminem still enjoys great popularity in the UK. Revival debuted at #1, securing Christmas number one. This was the rapper’s eighth consecutive number one album, a streak matched only by ABBA and Led Zeppelin. Further, the Ed Sheeran-supported lead single “River” immediately hit #2. Three years ago, Eminem performed sold out shows at Wembley Stadium; his ironclad fanbase will buy anything.
The rampant chart success may initially distract from the album’s glaring flaw, its terrible content. Without the Christmas gift market and first-week curiosity streaming, Revival will tumble down the charts due to its poor quality. Harry Styles’ self-titled debut album suffered the same fate – after debuting at #1, it quickly slid into chart obscurity due its derivative nature. After it’s charting-topping debut, Revival dropped to #3 after a second week.
Revival comes 5 years after the the lukewarm Marshall Mathers LP II and we hear 45-year-old Eminem at a new life stage. Since his last album, rap has changed more than I can think in the genre’s history. A look at the best selling rap albums of 2013 showcases the difference in climate. Note the absence of trap and mumble rap:
2017 hip hop is dominated by melodic flows and Auto-Tune, relegating lyrics to a secondary role for many rappers. Comparing Drake’s More Life to Nothing Was the Same shows how things have changed since 2013.
Rick Rubin and Dr. Dre are executive producers for Revival, which splutters between 1980s rock rap and pop rap ballads. This is Old Man Eminem, his weakest incarnation. To recap Eminem’s career stages:
Struggle [1990s]– Eminem was hungry in his early days, angrily determined to prove that a white rapper could be taken seriously.
His blue collar rhymes starkly contrasted with the bloated bling rap which was popular post-Biggie and Tupac. Eminem reinvigorated the genre with his refreshing perspective and self-deprecating humour.
Key songs: If I Had; Just Don’t Give a Fuck; My Name Is
He was so successful that he starred in the semi-autobiographical 8 Mile in 2002; unfortunately, it also exacerbated an already sizeable drug habit. This apex ended with the sloppy Encore, promoted by goofy singles like “Ass Like That” and “Just Lose It”. Encore started the trend of fans indiscriminately buying Eminem projects regardless of quality.
Key Songs: Marshall Mathers; Lose Yourself; Like Toy Soldiers
Recovery and Marshall Mathers LP II were next, and Eminem ensured these projects’ success by stuffing the feature list with popular singers; Rihanna and Pink became frequent collaborators. Pop rap ballads have been an Eminem trademark since Recovery.
Key Songs: 3am; Love the Way You Lie; Headlights
Key Songs: Castle; River; Walk on Water
Eminem’s best work came when he rapped as an underdog, his early career describing the struggle for relevance in the black-dominated rap community. To recapture this spirit, the heavy-handed “Untouchable” sees Eminem rap from the perspective of a racially abused black man in America. There’s no struggle left in the rapper’s life, so he must engineer it for himself.
In a bid to stay relevant Eminem clumsily experiments with trap sounds on Revival, creating “Chloraseptic”, ostensibly spoofing the genre’s tropes. Stans argue that it’s a biting critique of Mumble Rap. However, Eminem is one of the least subtle people around. It is laughable to suggest Shady can gently appraise trap; on the same album he tells a woman her “booty is heavy duty like diarrhoea”.
Rather than following trends he should have approached middle age rapping like Nas and Jay-Z recently have. People loved 4:44 and Life is Good, mature albums that explore relationships and ageing as a rap icon. Hip Hop is still a young genre; only now are we seeing rappers over 40. Revival missed the opportunity for Eminem to explore middle age.
As Eminem confidently released Revival’s tracklist on social media featuring guests such as Beyoncé, Pink and Ed Sheeran, the reception was muted. People correctly knew what to expect from Revival- pop rap ballads and a polished commercial sound. The only rap feature is a nobody called Phresher, who’s only allowed to perform the hook.
Eminem has always has always pandered to the charts, but Revival reaches new heights; I’m reminded of the famous “Real Slim Shady” line:
With Revival, Em became what he hated most, a white pop rapper. More than mother Mathers or Kim, white pop rappers angered Eminem most of all: he’s beefed with – Vanilla Ice, Everlast, Fred Durst, Everlast, Kid Rock and Mark Wahlberg. Eminem consistently portrayed himself as a shield against these lower quality white artists.
Meanwhile, Old Man Eminem’s lead single, “River” features Ed Sheeran, a ginger singer who occasionally raps over acoustic guitar instrumentals. I imagine 1999 Eminem would have attacked Sheeran with the fury he did Everlast.
Skylar Gray ghostwrote several hooks on Revival and was replaced by more famous singers like Alicia Keys, Pink and Beyoncé on the hooks she penned. This album is unashamedly pop.
Eminem has admitted he likes to run his gimmicks into the ground; thankfully he has retired the vile Ken Kaniff and the frequent Christopher Reeve jokes. Neither gimmick has amused since the Blair Government.
Marshall Mathers LP II’s lone highlight was ‘Headlights’, a touching apology to Eminem’s maligned mother. Revival’s apology comes to the equally smeared Kim on “Bad Husband”, Eminem displays contrition with a hint of self-congratulation:
Who will he apologise to next? My bet, daughter Hailie for growing up with her parent’s dysfunctional marriage splashed across the tabloids. Apologising to women might be latest Eminem trope.
Revival is a long album, clocking in at nearly 80 minutes. While the rapper favours long albums, previous projects rarely outstayed their welcome like this. Here’s how they compare:
Big K.R.I.T’s 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time was longer than Revival but was a compelling and musically varied listen. I always knew Eminem was capable of a bad album; I wasn’t aware that he could make a boring album.
4 out of 10.