Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP 2
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about MMLP2 is the (admittedly scant) evidence that as an emcee, Eminem can still spit it hard with the best of them. Opener Bad Guy sees him revisiting Stan, one of the biggest commercial hits of his career. It's a case-in-point for the album's flawed premise.
As with many Hollywood sequels, the expansion upon the original's neatly-woven tale feels superfluous, and actually reaches back in time to undermine the original by tagging on more action, without the central character even present. Obviously, bringing in Dido to sing the hook in Stan was a turning point for Eminem – he uses female singers in several chrouses on MMLP2, turning what was a neat digression on one track into his standard operating procedure. One Stan is inspired – two, least of all ten, show a lack of imagination, no matter how tightly-written.
Rhyme or Reason is one of the album's more successful cuts, sampling The Zombies' Time of the Season and pairing it with dextrous, quick-fire rap. It's not the most imaginative production, and Eminem's rhymes don't blind you with brilliance, but it's a slight return. So Much Better sees Eminem return to the whingeing, narcissistic solipsism of his last three albums, and singing his own chorus – his effort is marginally better than another Dido-clone, but still pretty terrible. Brainless and Rap God also offer some impressive wordplay, over hooks and beats that, by comparison to the rest of the album at least, don't actively make you want to stab your own ears with a sharpened pencil.
Another hoary trope Eminem pulls out, aided by Rick Rubin and DJ Khalil, is stadium-filling rap-rock. On Survival, Berzerk and So Far, cheesy, slab-like guitar riffs are brought to the table, allowing Eminem to indulge in a kind of crotch-grabbing brag-rap that references everything back from Kid Rock to Run DMC and Aerosmith. Anachronistic and artistically bankrupt, listening to these songs is a painfully embarrassing experience, like watching karaoke at a wedding. They are the album's core, likely to be the biggest singles, and they stink of desperation. So Far in particular sounds like godawful country rock. It's difficult to hold onto your lunch while enduring its nauseating 5 minutes.
Then there are the female guest singers. From the predictable Rihanna team-up on The Monster to the tracks featuring lesser known singers like Sia and Skylar Grey, these lukewarm offerings cannot be saved by the occasional half-decent verse from Eminem.
The worst track on the album, along with the dreadful So Far, is the jaw-droppingly awful Headlights, featuring the vocal "talents" of Nate Ruess of "indie" band FUN. Eminem apologises to his mum, at length, over a tired beat and genuinely ear-offending vocals. It's a track that should never have been conceived, let alone recorded, and the choice of guest singer gives yet more evidence of the fact that Eminem has lost touch with music. His taste straight-up sucks if he believes Ruess to be a worthy collaborator – either that or he has such contempt for his fans that co-opting Ruess was simply a cynical cash-grab. It's hard to decide which conclusion is the more depressing for those who have followed Eminem from his vital early days recording with Skam, Eastern Conference All-Stars and Dre, whose absence as anything but 'Executive Producer' on this album is notable.
The second lamest track is the cartoonish misogyny-fest Love Game, with Kendrick Lamar. Eminem accesses cliched pastiches of his former lyrical selves, playing cut-and-paste with his various personas, while Kendrick phones in a verse which responds to the casual controversy-baiting in kind. The beat, based on Wayne Fontana's track, is unadventurous, the team-up a disappointment. But it also brings us to perhaps the most unappealing facet of this album – namely, the rapant misognyny and homophobia in the lyrics. Eminem long ago found a fanbase among angry teenage boys, but that audience have grown up. Eminem hasn't. His fans deserve better.
Homophobia and misogyny in hip-hop were hardly invented by Eminem, and this review isn't the place to list artists whose seminal releases included controversial or offensive statements. No-one but the most rabidly politically correct are proposing that rappers who say homophobic or sexist things should be banned, silenced or boycotted. And Eminem has always courted this kind of controversy, claiming it stems from his background as a battle rapper, and that terms like 'faggot' and 'bitch' are used merely as insults, rather than as slurs against women or homosexuals.
Coming from a rapper past the age of 40, one who has publicly disavowed homophobia and performed with Elton John, and whose past three albums were each flawed but arguably worthy attempts to present a more mature take on hip-hop, to lapse into the kind of lazy bullshit as "Little gay lookin' boy / So gay I can barely say it with a straight face lookin' boy" (from Rap God) is more than just recidivism. It's repellent as much for its homophobia as for its laziness – its as if, with MMLP2, Eminem has resigned himself to forever making rap music that has about as much lyrical value as the playground insults of ignorant children.
The lyrics, which contain numerous noxious incidences of this kind of lazy prejudice, could be dissected in greater detail, but what's the point? For all his abilities – cramming in so many parallel rhymes your head spins, spitting syllables at breakneck speed – Eminem is wasting his talent, and MMLP2 reeks of a shameless, late-career cash in from start to finish. Not even the least awful track on this album contains a tenth of the charm of his early work. At 41, Eminem is as over-the-hill, as past it as The Rolling Stones are in their 70s, and it is nobody's fault but his own that he has become so irrelevant. It is due to a lack of ideas, a failure to elevate and mature as an artist; a tedious and tiresome self-regard, coupled with a shameless yearning for cash. Given how impressive the recent work of his close contemporaries such as El-P has been, MMLP2 seems more than a disappointment – it feels like a betrayal, a waste of everyone's time, including Marshall's.