Eminem - Revival (Aftermath Entertainment, Shady Records, Interscope Records) 2017
The year was 2001; I was ten years old and my friend, during recess, came up to me and told me how awesome The Marshall Mathers LP by Eminem was; for us, he was a hero – a flawed one, personality-wise, but that was part of his appeal. There was simply something special about this guy- he was a bit nuts, but he spoke from the heart, his words were bullets aimed at different targets.
Sixteen years later, in a totally different society and music scene, Eminem is back with his ninth studio album entitled Revival. Given his reputation as both a heavily praised and a very controversial rapper, this return is certainly one of the highlights of 2017, no matter what is said and written about him. Yet we must ask ourselves: at a time when the likes of Kendrick Lamar or Tyler, the Creator are absolute leaders dominating the hip-hop universe, does Eminem still have something to offer or are his best days a fading memory of a glorious past? The answer is yes… and no.
The Detroit-based musician, who forever left his mark at the beginning of the 21st century, is wrestling not only with self-doubt, but also with those who have cast him aside, sounding like a man on a mission who must prove to the word – and obviously himself- that he is still a master of his craft. Opening track “Walk on Water”, a piano-driven ballad featuring Beyoncé, has him ask rhetorically – because deep down he knows the answer- “Why are expectations so high? Is it the bar I set?” He certainly set the bar high and the pressure to constantly live up to the hype made him a victim of his own meteoric rise to stardom.
Still, happiness and self-realization are probably more important to him at this stage than fame and money. This is no ordinary record, it’s the passionate statement of a man who wants to regain the love and respect of those who once put him on a pedestal and now label him a has-been. He even blatantly admits this when he sings “There was a time I had the world by the balls, eating out my palm/ every album song I was spazzing the fuck out on/ And now I’m getting clowned and frowned on”.
“Do you still believe in me”, he nervously asks his listeners on “Believe”. The truth is, we want to. We still remember how terrific he used to be back in the day (The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show are modern masterpieces), but that magic eventually disappeared. With Revival he manages to recapture some of the fire his art had, but the flames don’t burn brightly enough; instead of a true return to form, what we have here is an ambitious but inconsistent album created by an artist who was once freaking unstoppable.
Some of the tracks, though, are truly amazing. “Castle”, a three-part letter to his daughter Hailie, is a heartfelt apology; here, he apologizes for not being the father he should have been and for not dealing with his problems – specifically the tumultuous relationship with her mother- privately. It`s absolutely heartbreaking, an example not only of the greatness Eminem is capable of when he’s feeling vulnerable, but of his powerful storytelling abilities- previously displayed on hits like “Stan”. It segues into “Arose”, another beautiful, sweet and melancholic tune in which he recounts his 2007 overdose, using this scenario to once again apologize to his family, as well as his former collaborator Proof, who passed way in 2006.
Without a shadow of a doubt, these are two of the best songs on the album, especially from a lyrical standpoint. He discusses other issues, including current America under Trump, but this is the one which results in his strongest work.
It’s a shame, though, that these moments of sheer brilliance are far and between, and mixed with cringeworthy decisions (like sampling “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” on “Rewind Me” or “Zombie” by The Cranberries on “In Your Head” – in fact, the less we talk about this one, the better).
Yet, for all its flaws, Revival ends up being fascinating: it features famous guests – Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran, Pink, Alicia Keys, among others- and a revolving door of producers, maybe an attempt at diversity and a way to be relevant in today`s environment; also, when it`s good, it proves the creative force this man was in his heyday is still (occasionally) alive.
Will he ever be at the top of his game again? Fuck, that is a question perhaps not even Eminem can answer right now… but he`s doing the best he can to be the way he was.