The Critics Corner | Albums

Revival Much talked about return album much ado about mostly missing instead of hitting
Eminem
Album name: Revival
Label: Shady/Aftermath/Interscope
Release Date: December 15, 2017
Rating: -- 2.0 out of 5

Review written by: Jake Boshold
The music industry has gone through many changes since 2013, when Eminem last graced us with a studio album in the form of The Marshall Mathers LP 2. In 2013, music streaming services like Spotify and Pandora were just on the rise, and didn’t count for a majority of America’s music consumption. It was still possible for artists whose names aren’t Taylor Swift, Adele, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, or Eminem himself to go Platinum off pure album sales alone. And of course, Pop music was still dominant over Hip Hop in the mainstream. Fast forward to 2017; Hip Hop is dominated by a new generation of young Trap stars fresh off of SoundCloud who all mostly share qualities of drug-themed or materialistic lyrical content, autotuned or “mumbled” vocals, and simplified bass and synth-driven production in their music. Physical album sales and digital downloads are nearly irrelevant when it comes to counting for album and song sales, because streaming services such as Spotify now dominate the music consumption landscape.

So where does Eminem stand in the current musical landscape, and how would a new album from Marshall Mathers fit into all of this? What direction should an Eminem album take in 2017? Eminem is very self-aware that fans and critics alike have not been very welcoming of his post-drug addiction material since his comeback in 2009. He shows that on the track “Walk on Water” featuring Beyoncé, the first single and opening track off of his ninth studio album, Revival. On the self-reflective track, we find Marshall Mathers questioning his position in the current landscape of Rap music, as well as his struggles trying to please all of his fans and critics with his music. The track also finds Em reflecting on his legacy as an artist and the overall impact he’s going to leave on the genre of Rap once he’s hung it up. It’s a very humanizing track for Marshall, his flow on it is rather conversational. First listening to this track before the full album was released, many people, including myself, believed Em would take this album in a very personal and self-reflecting direction. Kind of like what Jay-Z did with his 2017 offer, 4:44. And a lot of tracks on this album are very personal and reflective, but as for the album as a whole? Revival seems to lack any sense of direction whatsoever, and for the most part finds Eminem doing everything that his fans and critics seem to dislike, except worse and more watered-down than ever before.

A lot of the negative critique that Em’s last album received was for the overuse of Rock samples, curtesy of producer Rick Rubin. On Revival, Rubin’s presence is even more noticeable and his disgusting fingerprint are all over the worst songs on this album. Particularly on the album’s worst song, “Remind Me”, where Em raps over a sample of “I Love Rock & Roll” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts about hitting on a woman whose crude personality reminds Em of himself. The song not only samples the instrumental of “I Love Rock & Roll”, the chorus to “Remind Me” is directly ripped from the chorus of the latter with Em adding in extra vocals to make the lyrics fit with the song itself. The whole thing just sounds ugly, especially with the addition of some of Em’s worst punchlines to date. Marshall, nobody wanted to hear you say “your booty is heavy-duty, like diarrhea” over a Joan Jett sample.

The bad use of sampling continues on “Heat”, which samples 2 other songs Rubin has produced in the past; “King of Rock” by Run-DMC, and “Girls” by Beastie Boys. 2 great ‘80s Rap-Rock songs ruined by Em rapping about hooking up with a random woman using pickup lines such as “you got buns, I got Asperger’s” and referencing the infamous 2005 clip of Donald Trump wanting to… well you know.

And speaking of Mr. Trump, Em really wants you all to know on this album that he, wait for it…. doesn’t like him! Eminem’s dislike of Trump goes back to late 2016, when he released a 7-minute freestyle titled “Campaign Speech”, where he digs at Trump for a couple of lines. A few months before the release of this album, he went on BET and performed a cypher entirely directed at Donald Trump. And now we have the song “Like Home”, featuring a hook from Alicia Keys. The overall message of the song is about all of America uniting as one against Trump and his policies, and some of the points Em makes on this track are perfectly reasonable. But the problem with the track is that it’s hard to take it seriously when he also throws in lines like “'Cause this type of pickle that we're in is hard to deal (dill)”, and “I do not see (Nazi) a way y’all differ”, as well as the cheesy meant-to-be “inspirational”-sounding piano ballad instrumental that makes this feel like a Hip Hop anti-Trump version of “We Are The World”. And during Alicia Keys’ hook, which is probably the most redeeming part of this song, you can hear Eminem in the background yelling “hands up!” and “stand up!” hype-man style while Alicia is singing. No Marshall, I will not put my hands up, and neither will most people listening to this.

Eminem has dabbled in plenty of political tracks in the past. Most notably, he made an anti-Bush track on his 2004 album Encore titled “Mosh”. But what made “Mosh” work was that Em actually sounded passionate about what he was talking about, you could feel the emotion in his voice, and the lyrics were more than just mere talking points and arguments like on “Like Home”.

Another politically-themed track on Revival is “Untouchable”, which tackles the subjects of white privilege, police brutality, and racial injustice against the black community. The first few verses of the song I actually found quite creative, as Em raps from the perspective of a white police officer pulling over a black man strictly based on the color of his skin. But as for the rest of the song, everything goes downhill. The Rock-based instrumental sounds muddy and poorly mixed, and the chorus samples a Cheech & Chong song of all things, and Em just sounds hilariously bad chanting “white boy white boy, you’re a rockstar” on the chorus. But the most problematic thing about this song is the last verse, where Em raps from the perspective of am oppressed black man. Em could have had an actual black Rap artist do this verse instead and they would probably rap about experiences they’ve had themselves, but Em decided to make himself the voice of the oppressed black character in the song.

Speaking of songs with story-driven lyrics, a very common trope in Eminem’s recent music is tragic love stories. The most well-known example of this trope is the 2010 hit single from his album Recovery, “Love The Way You Lie” featuring Rihanna, which is about an abusive relationship. On Revival, this trope is used on many different tracks. Notably, on the Ed Sheeran-featured “River”, the song almost feels like a sequel to LTWYL, using a similar structure to it; the ballad-like chorus from a popular singer, the acoustic guitar-driven instrumental, and the story itself is very similar. “River” is also about a failed relationship, telling a story from the perspective of a cheating boyfriend whose girlfriend tries to get back at him by cheating as well. The story escalates when the man finds out that the women is pregnant with his baby, but because their relationship is so fractured beyond repair, the women decides to abort the child. Ed Sheeran’s chorus on this song is actually quite beautiful, and the story is actually very heartbreaking. But of course, just like on “Love The Way You Lie”, Eminem just has to throw in some terrible punchlines to ruin it, such as “just shit on my last chick and she has what my ex lacks (Ex-Lax)”. Em, you just made a poop joke in a song about cheating and abortion. WHY?

Another track on the album using the failed-relationship trope is the Skylar Grey-featured “Tragic Endings”. Now this song is even more similar to “Love The Way You Lie” (which Skylar wrote the chorus to for Rihanna in 2010) than “River”. While LTWYL is about a physically abusive relationship, “Tragic Endings” is about a mentally abusive relationship where the woman seems to be torturing the man with his own insecurities to the point of insanity. The song ends the exact way LTYWL ends; with something being set on fire, this time it being the man’s car with him inside it instead of an entire house. Skylar’s voice sounds beautiful during the refrain of the song, but her chorus is emotionless and dry, as is the instrumental.

On the subject of songs with female-led Pop hooks (another common trope in 2010s Eminem songs), a majority of them on this album (as well as plenty of them on Recovery and MMLP2) are exactly as I described the hook on “Tragic Endings”; emotionless, dry, and void of any life. One of them being “Nowhere Fast” featuring Kehlani. The subject of the song is as melodramatic as the title; how the world is going to shit and we’re all gonna die, and even though Em’s on top of the world as one of the biggest artists still active, he feels just as shitty as us normal people do. The whole song, especially the chorus sung by Kehlani, sounds like it was specifically made to soundtrack a Transformers or Fast & Furious movie, which honestly I can totally see happening (I hope to God Michael Bay doesn’t see this review and get ideas).

But despite all of this album’s flaws, we do see a few tracks where Em shines, and even delivers some of the most emotional performances of his entire career. We get to see a hint of the old Slim Shady on “Framed”, where Em’s flow and the serial killer-based subject matter of the song, as well as the complex rhyme scheme, is reminiscent of his 2009 album Relapse, except he doesn’t use the same accent he used throughout that album, so the track also might bring back some memories of 1999’s The Slim Shady LP.

Em makes an apology to his ex-wife and mother of his children, Kim, on the X Ambassadors-assisted “Bad Husband”, where he apologizes for causing her so much pain throughout the years, as well as for his older songs where he brutally rapped about murdering her. On 2013’s Marshall Mathers LP 2, Em made a similar apology song to his mother called “Headlights”, which featured Nate Ruess of fun. So even though “Bad Husband” is a very emotional and touching apology track, it seems Em made this song just for the sake of having another apology track featuring an Indie Rock singer on the hook.

But the 2 best songs on the album both come at the very end. The first being “Castle”, where Eminem details the struggles of raising his daughter, Hailie, who has been the subject of many of Em’s most personal songs in the past, but also some of his most brutal. He tells this story in the form of 3 letters that he wrote to his daughter. The first letter goes all the way back to before she was born in 1995, and the 3rd letter takes place during 2007, when Em suffered from a fatal drug overdose. During this 3rd letter, Em details how he’s written multiple songs about her, but at the same time has tried to shield her from the limelight so she can live a normal life. But the reality was that even though he tried to hide her face, the entire world knows about her life because of the songs Em wrote about her. The song ends with Em saying that he’s done making music after he puts out one last album (referring to 2009’s Relapse), and then Em hits the floor and passes out from his overdose. The intense Blues guitar-driven instrumental and the haunting chorus sung by an uncredited vocalist named Liz Rodrigues (who has done a few hooks for Em in the past uncredited as well) add to the suspenseful mood of the song.

“Castle” transitions straight into the album’s closing track, “Arose”. On this song, Em is in the hospital on what he believes is going to be his deathbed. The song reads as what seems to be Em’s final words before he dies. He reflects on how he’ll never see his daughter graduate high school and how he feels he has so much more to do before he goes. He reflects on the memories of his mother, father, and of his late childhood best friend, rapper Proof, who passed away in 2006. Of course, Em survives this overdose, but I don’t think I should say anymore about this track, I think I’ve spoiled it enough. Let’s just say that “Arose” is probably the most emotional and tear-jerking song Em has ever written.

If only the rest of the album followed in the direction of the last 2 tracks. Em could’ve taken this album in many different directions, but instead chose to give it no direction at all. It seems Em was trying to please all of his fans with this record and give them a bit of everything, but in the end this record may end up pleasing very little people. Revival could’ve been a great self-reflective conclusion to the “Re” trilogy (Relapse-Recovery-Revival), but instead ended up being a clusterfuck of boring piano ballads, lifeless choruses, terrible lines, badly-used samples, bland production, and very few memorable tracks. This is by far the worst album Eminem has ever made, but the few good tracks on it show that he still has it in him to make one last good record and solidify his legacy. The question is, will he do it?

Highlight tracks include “Castle”, “Arose”, “Framed”, and “Chloraseptic”.
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