Revival's release prompted many critics to verify their convictions of Eminem as a washed up, declining artist.
I can lend the smallest bagatelle of sympathy to them; on first listen, Revival appears rushed, and most of all, a little underwhelming. However, upon further analysis - and this is the reason I like to write my reviews a few days after release - the album emanates a mature, wise and ever-talented voice that will please 'Stans' of all eras.
Speaking of eras, however, Revival's conception is still difficult to comprehend. Pre-hiatus (2006), Eminem was on the rise, delivering a mix of shock rap and (in)famously calling out a number of people, whether it be Bill Clinton or his own mother. This is in addition to, of course, the three famous personas. In each album right until MMLP2 (2013), listeners understood whether a song was supplied by Slim Shady [an exaggerated, almost maniacal alter-ego], Marshall Mathers [introspective reflection] and Eminem himself [the 'Rap God']. However, Slim Shady was 'killed' in the song Bad Guy back in 2013, as was the sense of coherence running through Revival. It sounds like Eminem mashed songs from each album era together; no common theme was present, each producer had their own stamp on various tracks of the album. The song Believe appears to lament the drawbacks of his own success:
"But how do you keep up the pace
And the hunger pains once you've won the race?"
That's not to say a cogent theme is necessary for a great project; Marshall himself says,
"It's a reflection of where I'm at right now, but also I feel like what I tried to do was diversify. I've tried to make a little something for everyone".
And that captures the essence of the album. Like Kobe Bryant in his later years at the Lakers, Eminem is simply displaying his diverse talent as he winds down his career. There's no need for him to be particularly bold, to chase the #1 spot on the charts; simply delivering his awaiting fans with more quality music is enough. On the other hand, perhaps the concept of the album is the recognition and self-awareness; the first track begins with
"Why are expectations so high?"
and the final song ends aptly:
"Now I know."
There was, perhaps, one risk that failed to pay off on the album. Eminem's known to try to adapt his own style to the current trends, but the rock-rap combination comes off brash, to say the least. Remind Me and Heat come off forced. Even on the first verse on Untouchable - where the beat can, at a stretch, be conceived as ironic - it tempts listeners to skip the track, unfortunately missing out on the second half of an otherwise wonderful song.
Untouchable is one of a number of tracks that represents a return to the political mindset that inspired Mosh and White America back in the early 2000s; and in the age of Donald Trump, it's certainly a welcome one.
The pop features, to contrast, are breathtaking in some places. Without taking over the tracks, Beyonce, Skylar Grey, Kehlani and Alicia Keys supplement the mood and the conveyed message. And what of the rapping itself? In a word, remarkable. I've done a track-by-track analysis here, but it's probably worth highlighting Believe, Walk on Water, Untouchable, Like Home and In Your Head as truly fantastic Eminem projects. There's a fair few more I could have listed, but the two tracks which round off the album will prove to be some of the best in Eminem's illustrious career.
Castle and Arose reflect a sorrowful Eminem back to his storytelling best. The former is a letter (spanning 1995 to 2007) to his daughter, Hailie; the latter a brooding reflection of the last decade of his life. The near-death overdose, Proof's death, his mother, his father; all captured within one beautiful verse. The defiant verse that comes after proves to be a phenomenal way to round off the album.
Four years after MMLP2, Eminem treats all his fans (excluding the MAGA ones) to a project which flexes his full ranges of talent. The raw talent is no longer there; it's being expressed in its full glory instead. Out of the depths of the hip-hop hall of fame comes a new Marshall Mathers; woke, revived and still on top.
Listen to Revival on Spotify below:
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