When it comes to content, Eminem hasn’t been this presentable in years. His crusade on Trump and white privilege is fiery and perhaps admirable. It’s truly unfortunate the music behind the ideas makes Revival the most abrasive and unlistenable he’s ever sounded.
Source: The 405
Oh, Marshall. When critics savaged Recovery, there may have been more than a healthy dose of ‘kill your idols’ at play. After all, he set out to make a direct pop record, and the album certainly succeeded at least in that sense. In 2017, tearing the aging icon apart is far less fun. Let’s get it out of the way: yes, Eminem is trying, once again, to grow up. What’s more, he’s gone beyond the Hallmark-lite sentiments of ‘Not Afraid’ towards something actually meaningful, taking on white detachment and comfort in society and the figurehead of our ills, Trump.
His good intentions just make how genuinely excruciating this record is all the more sad. Slim Shady may have spent the last decade and change putting out bad records, but Revival stands as the first truly terrible entry into his already sagging discography. Accents be damned, Relapse boasted an energized rapper (its unbearable lead single aside), even Encore had numerous highlights, but this?
It’s a scattered, gasping mess. Before release, Marshall Mathers said something to the effect of feeling he’d finally figured out the balancing act of pleasing everyone in his wide fanbase late in his career: essentially, to include a song for freakin’ everybody. Unsurprisingly, in trying to reach everyone he’s made a sporadic, unfocused, overlong mass that will likely appeal in full to no one.
None of these songs feel meant to appear next together in a collection, a groupthink idea board tossed together as an album. Somehow, it manages to sound like a Greatest Hits, sounding years apart track by track, yet fails to offer a single track worthy of compiling. ‘Framed’ digs into the Relapse era, and while an Ivanka Trump jab may amuse some, it has half the spirit of its inspiration. The likes of ‘Bad Husband’ and ‘River’ would sound at home on Recovery. Much of the energy is divided between these two literal opposite poles of energy, leading to catastrophe.
What’s more, while Eminem has received joking flak for having a poor ear for beats, here, he completely revokes Nas’ title for the single worst-backed major rap release of all time. Revival is littered with contributions from Alex da Kid, who – more than ever – makes a serious case for being the worst mainstay hip-hop producer available with his one-note drum kit and dull, noisy catastrophes. 90% of the soundscapes here would have been rejected from an unsigned artist’s mixtape, they’re not just bad, they’re distinctly obnoxious, grating the ear and distracting from whatever Slim is saying. Granted, for most of what he’s saying here, that’s perhaps a cruel mercy (“I just got the wind about me / like wind chimes” on ‘Believe’), but on single ‘Untouchable’ the cheesy rap-rock vibes (and unnecessary Cheech & Chong sample) completely overwhelm the well-intended message. The same goes for the waste of Alicia Keys that is ‘Like Home’, Em calls Trump Hitler, and we can barely appreciate it, the beat is so cumbersome.
As for collaborators, it’s largely the voices people griped the most about offering the most shelter, Phresher and, somehow, even Ed Sheeran offering much needed moments of respite amidst Mather’s fumbling. Meanwhile, Skylar Grey is predictably colorless, Khelani’s energy is wasted on a generic, emotionless ballad, and the X Ambassadors make a belated tribute to Kim unbearable. Elsewhere, he digs into his worst traits, as usual. What once felt funny and satirical has long felt forced and repulsive.
How Eminem and co. thought his new somewhat on point wokeness would mix successfully with the same old ludicrous murderous and sexist antics may boggle the mind, but the question is ultimately needless. Revival is so uninspired and lost that picking it apart is a hopeless affair. Naturally, Eminem is still rapping his ass off. He’s practically an Olympian on ‘Offended’, pulling out every flow in his grab bag out for a breathless, nearly 6-minute rant, but it can all be reduced to, “I swear when I get up / I’m never gonna let up til everybody eats my turds.” This is a 45-year-old man. He uses this on the hook, no less. Eminem has made a career out of feeling persecuted and unappreciated, and for years now he’s been barking at a nonexistent detractor, only to completely misunderstand why his audience has grown weary.
Revival ends with the sound of a toilet flushing. Nothing could be more telling, but this writer shall say this: having spent years striving to be understanding, we’ve suffered enough. Eminem has long sounded uninspired and unhappy with the music he’s making, and more than ever, holding out hope he’ll figure it all out again feels like a grim prospect. Once the deed is done and this goes to press, I will never listen to this album again.