People love to discuss music in extremes, deeming records or artists either brilliant or trash, without leaving much middle ground. The latest Eminem album is not as bad as the consensus claims, but it will try the patience of even his staunchest fans. Eminem is arguably one of the greatest rappers of all time, not based off of his popularity but rather his body of work — especially his first few releases. But in the past few years, the quality of his music has fallen off, growing repetitive and stale — and The Marshall Mathers LP2 follows suit.
To begin on a high note, Eminem’s latest is a showcase of his lyrical talent. Eminem has always been, and still is, one of rap’s most gifted lyricists, stringing together rhymes with unparalleled skill. He weaves and twists together convoluted phrases with impressive proficiency, no matter how disturbing the lyrical content can be.
But rampant misogyny and violence run through his well-executed lyrics. He drops homophobic slurs far too frequently, and goes into gratuitously gory detail about the physical harm he wants to cause to women. These aspects made him provocative early in his career, when he coupled them with songs that were risk-taking and innovative enough that their content was defensible. This time around, he ran out of fresh ideas, lazily partaking in the overused practice of rapping over classic rock songs including in “Rhyme Or Reason” and “Love Game.” Most of his pop-culture references are also woefully out of date, making Eminem look like an out-of-touch dad.
There is a solid Texas connection as Denton folk singer Sarah Jaffe sings background vocals on the opener “Bad Guy.” The strangest moment comes with “Headlights,” which features vocals from Nate Ruess of Fun. and basically sounds like one of the band’s pop songs with Eminem rapping the verses. While it does not entirely work, it does showcase Eminem’s strongest work on the album, as he makes a starkly emotional apology to his mother — his confessional style coming off as self-aware and refreshingly sympathetic.
The Marshall Mathers LP2 shows that Eminem is well past his prime and seems unwilling to push out of his comfort zone. The album is not the creative resurgence many hoped it would be, but that won’t stop die-hard fans from downloading it for themselves.