There is a scene in the film Trainspotting where heroin addict Sick Boy is describing his unifying theory of life to fellow junkie Renton, which is essentially: “At one point you’ve got it… and then you lose it… and it’s gone forever”. When Renton points out that some of recently departed Lou Reed’s later work isn’t bad, Sick Boy gives a reply that could neatly sum up the last 10 years of Eminem’s career: “No, it’s not bad… But it’s not great either, is it? And in your heart you kind of know that although it sounds alright, it’s actually just… shite”.
Anyone who sat through the entirety of ‘Relapse’ and ‘Recovery’, his last two efforts, would probably agree that Eminem had entered into this period of his career. Love the Way You Lie is an OK song but it also contains the line “Now you get to watch her leave out the window/ Guess that’s why they call it window pain”. This was once the most controversial man in music, now resorting to terrible puns with Rihanna singing in the background. Surely it’s time to give up on him?
Well hold your horses. While he has been in a tailspin for quite a while, ‘MMLP2’ shows that there may be signs of life to Eminem yet. This album is an amalgamation of everything Eminem has done in his career so far. As a result, there are some great moments here and also some pretty terrible ones. It is a bit all-over-the-place but it is by far the most interesting thing he has put out in years.
The first thing that strikes you on listening is the level of effort he has put into the technical side of his rapping. Track after track here, he is firing out line after line packed with internal rhymes and wordplay. It might take some closer listening to catch everything he’s saying but on a surface level, it’s very impressive. The songs where he sticks to rapping are the most successful ones here.
Opener Bad Guy is a sequel to stalker anthem Stan where Stan’s brother hunts down Eminem for revenge. It is a bit gimmicky but it’s actually quite a good song. Rhyme or Reason is also a positive with a well-chosen Zombies sample. Some of the tracks after this suffer from trying to shoehorn pop choruses into decent rap songs though. The vocalists on Survival and Legacy aren’t named on the tracklist and their performances are just as anonymous as that implies. Skylar Grey or Rihanna don’t fare much better, their hooks are just distracting if anything.
There are high points to balance out these low points though. The Rick-Rubin produced Berzerk has some old-school charm and Brainless and Evil Twin are some of the best rap performances Eminem has given in a long time. There is also a sense of humour here that was notably absent on his last two albums. This works well most of the time although it can also backfire, like when he is doing a Yoda impression or throwing the word “faggot” around like it’s 1993.
The song Headlights shows that the 41-year-old has finally matured a bit though. It is essentially an apology to his mother for all the hateful things he has said about her down the years. Now he just hates his father. Gotta hate someone, I guess.
This album isn’t really anywhere close to the quality of the original Marshall Mathers LP. It’s his best in years though and the amount you enjoy it really depends on how much relevance you think he still has these days. If you’re still a fan, you’ll probably like it. It’s not exactly a return to form but it’ll do for now.