When I first heard Walk On Water, I was genuinely, wholeheartedly excited for Revival. This would be Em’s 4:44, I told myself. How wrong I was.
Revival is a disaster. And not a “5/10 could have done better” disaster, but rather a complete and utter mess. The album’s production, mainly down to Alex Da Kid and the infamous Rick Rubin, is awful. From a terrible interpolation of The Cranberries’ Zombie to an unaltered sample of 1980s hit I Love Rock N’ Roll, the rap-rock beats that make up much of Revival are unlistenable. And when the album leaves its rap-rock safety bubble, it finds no footing – Chloraseptic is a weak attempt at a trap beat, Bad Husband is ruined by X Ambassadors’ attempts at ‘experimentation’ and Nowhere Fast’s strings-led beat is corny to say the least.
Aside from Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Phresher, the features are godawful. We don’t need another Skylar Grey hook, P!NK is utterly bland and crowds her song, and Alicia Keys sounds ridiculously dated. The worst offender, though, is Kehlani: her cringe-inducing hook destroys what could have been a decent track.
Eminem is on his worst form too. On half of the album’s tracks Em sounds like he’s flu-ridden, with a slimy nasal voice ruining much of his delivery. Even when not using this voice, he often pulls out the groan-inducing choppy flow that has characterised much of his recent work. Lyrically, the album is hot trash – “I’m so narcissistic, when I fart I sniff it / Do a fake dab to smell my armpits.” Or my personal favourite, “Your booty is heavy duty like diarrhoea”. Do I need to say any more?
Amongst the trash, however, are some fantastic moments. Ending tracks Castle and Arose are the best Em I’ve heard in years. River with Ed Sheeran is an incredibly well-constructed pop-rap track, and Framed is a return to Relapse form for Marshall. These four tracks make up some of Em’s best material since Relapse, and it’s a travesty that they’re on such a pathetic excuse of a record.
In Revival-style, I’ll end this review with some terrible, corny puns. I can’t Stan this album. The chances of Eminem dropping another good album are Slim. It’s clear to see none of this Mathers to Marshall. Em, as a massive fan, either listen to your fans or stop rapping.
Picks: Castle, Arose, River, Framed
When Eminem dropped Walk on Water in November, there was the instant impression that we already knew what shape his album would take. Before that track, there were murmurings of a heavyweight rap comeback on the cards, something akin to Jay-Z’s 4:44, in which Marshall Mathers would deliver bar after bar and rhyme after rhyme and put the naysayers to bed. Hell, there was even chat about a 2 Chainz collaboration coming together. But none of this was to be. No, once the world heard those piano chords and Beyoncé’s angelic voice soar on the lead single, we all knew. Eminem’s new album Revival was to be another big name pop chart smash. Something for the man to be proud of, but perhaps nothing to write home about.
Just a glance down the rest of the features would tell you exactly what to expect. I mean, should Em, who is still regularly proclaimed “greatest rapper of all time”, really be putting out a record chock full of hooks sung by Pink and Alicia Keys? The influence of pop and rock music on Revival is rife. River with Ed Sheeran, which nearly took the Christmas number one spot, is practically engineered for the mainstream. Remind Me and Heat ride their guitar riffs and samples as far as they will go. It seems like nearly every track here is made to be a single. And Marshall seems all too aware of this, what with the album’s major theme, other than his seething hatred of Donald Trump of course, being issues of the rapper’s own legacy and fears of it being tarnished. The world’s most popular hip-hop star might not have to worry about that just yet, however. For all its flaws, Revival is still an enjoyable listen, and lyrically has flashes back to old early noughties brilliance that just about satiate the ears of the casual listener.
Picks: Believe, Untouchable, River, Remind Me
How the mighty fall. Eminem’s latest album marks his artistic collapse from a witty, self-aware, polemical legend to a bland and obvious rapper cashing in badly on the latest trends. A revival it certainly isn’t. Sonically it’s fairly average Em still vocally competent and the production isn’t terrible. But, I never listened to Eminem for the production and the lyrics on this album nail the coffin of his career firmly shut.
Revival is in dire need of some self-awareness. Yelling “I wrote Stan” and dropping references to songs written sixteen years ago like Cleaning Out My Closet clearly leaves us both nostalgic of The Eminem Show. Tonally, Revival falls flat. Eminem’s career is built on anger and frustration which previously was a good thing. However, the well of interesting anger for a white, male millionaire can only go so deep. It now seems to have run dry, the anger that dominates the album seems sterile. When his songs had content beyond what it’s like to be a rapper they were dark, incisive, and funny but another song about being criticised by your rapper peers is nothing anyone wants to hear.
Which brings us to the album’s politics. He tries to direct some of his anger at the establishment which along with his commentary on racism is laudable if unoriginal. The attacks on Republicans however seem problematic to me. I agree with him but the disaffection that led to Trump arose from the post-Washington-consensus corporatocratic politics which ignored ordinary people. So, a millionaire shouting “Fuck your Republican views” falls short of anything resembling constructive dialogue, in my opinion. He also paraphrases Obama’s line about the impossibility of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots. It’s a pithy line, and again I agree with the sentiment, but to me it’s just another in a long series of prominent liberals covering their eyes and giving Obama a free pass for his failures which, in my opinion, helped to lay today’s foundations. I just hope Eminem stops before he can further tarnish his legacy.
Picks: Walking On Water