Eminem released his Marshall Mathers LP 2 on Tuesday. The record is a valiant attempt to regain some of his former fire. The verses are barbed and ravenous in a way his lyrics haven't been in years. He has a lot to say, some of which is new, but, as the title suggests, the album mostly reappropriates his old themes. Eminem does so in a way that shows a kind of new wisdom — a new sensitivity to the horrors he raps about. Eminem's MMLP2 is the only one of his four albums since The Eminem Show in 2002 that deserves the platinum status it will undoubtedly attain.
A lot of Em's work on MMLP2 is re-appropriating his old material. Nostalgia beats and snippets of old stories and quotables are scattered throughout songs. The quick switches in beat help grab the listeners attention for the citation. In "So Far," Em drops the "Real Slim Shady" beat to spit:
"Went to Burger King, they spit on my onion rings /
I think my karma is catching up with me."
Now that he's older, he's felt what it's like to be on the receiving end of senseless criminal mischief. Most of the time, his thoughts on these reinterpretations of the things he used to advocate go no farther than "fuck it," or calling his old self a "faggot." That's because, as Em spits on "Bad Guy":
"The old message I was trying to tell is dead."
Yet MMLP2 is not without its profound moments.
Eminem attempts reconciliation with his mother on "Headlights." The song plays out like a tough love apology:
"I'm sorry mama for 'Cleaning Out My Closet', at the time I was angry /
Rightfully maybe so, never meant that far to take it though, cause /
Now I know it's not your fault."
Songs like these show an emotional maturity, and more of an emotional honesty. Many of Em's old songs are very black and white. He expresses dark hatreds; "taking it too far" with mothers, girlfriends, and enemies; and blinding admiration for beautiful things, like his daughter Haley. The raps on MMLP2 get into more of the gray areas and complexities of emotional and social situations than is typical of Eminem. The violence is more tempered by reality, as if his characters have finally realized they can't just go around butchering people.
When the characters do contemplate outright violence, it comes off as super cartoonish. Violence on Eminem albums has always been this way, to a certain extent. On "Love Game," it was preposterously so. Eminem stops just short of rigging up a piano in the trees to foil the berserk lover that is chasing him.
"Now she's chasin' me with a cheese grater /
Here goes that broken record, cliche, it's all my fault anyway /
She's turnin' the tables, I'm a beat-break /
Treats my face like seratos, she cuts and scratches like a DJ."
It's refreshing to see someone making a run at Shady. The album starts with a fan kidnapping Eminem with the intention of killing him to exact revenge for the way Eminem tormented the fan's brother (Stan from "Stan"). But "Love Game" does not need to be three verses long.
There is an incredible amount of material on the album. Nearly every song is close to five minutes long with multiple beats, multiple hooks, and three Shady verses. With that much material, it's hard not to have dud lyrics, like on "Survival":
"I must be allergic to failure cause everytime I come close to it /
I just sneeze, but I just go atchoo then achieve!"
That whole song is a dud. Its beat sounds like a pop-punk anthem that's been seriously overproduced. Many of the beats on the album are overproduced with too many momentary textures, pops, and whizz bangs that are really there to do nothing more than distract the listener from the fact that the basic beat is boring.
Overall, though, the album marks a return to form. Eminem has remastered that fervor that got him to the top of the rap game. Eminem has resigned to the fact he can be nothing but an "Asshole." In halting his attempts to make "nice guy" music (Recovery), he's managed to start making real music again.