Sunday, November 17, 2013

A long after the fact sequel....how worthwhile is it?

Eminem released The Marshall Mathers LP 2 recently.  It might seem strange to toss out an explicitly titled sequel to an album that was arguably the one that shot him into the stratosphere of success (And revile) in countless ways.  It is even more strange coming as it does 13 years after its predecessor.  This long after the fact, that aspect can be a bad or a good thing.  Here it's a good thing, not quite in the way you might think.

When Seinfeld's series finale aired, it was panned in some circles for forcing the cast of that show to pay for all the thoughtless actions that had been at the heart of the comedic antics they had reveled in for 9 seasons.  This thought process informs MMLP2 - It is still brash, bratty, and gleefully offensive on multiple levels, but this time it is doused with a sense of reflection.  The opening track is a semi-sequel to Stan - which paints a creepy picture of an obsessive fan kidnapping Eminem and murdering him as the punishment for all the offensive things he's ever said (amongst other things.)  The sequel spirit continues with "So Much Better" which is a latter-day cousin to earlier "I hate my ex" rant song "Puke" off his phoned-in and not so interesting disc "Encore."  It's bleak and hateful, sure, with wishing someone would drop dead - but is delivered wrapped in a far less downtrodden sounding musical backdrop - which makes it a darkly catchy venom track all by itself.

"Asshole" forms the theme of this entire album.  The very opening says it all "Came to the world at a time when it was in need of a villain / an asshole / that role think I succeeded fulfilling" - which forms a strange bounce-off track to the 80's-throwback filled first single "Berzerk."  Other reviews have called this a risk - given what he usually uses as the lead-off single for his albums.   This is a fair statement.  Eminem has always been known for using obscure singles (research the track used as the basis for his debut single "My Name Is" for proof of that) but this far in such a guitar-flecked "rock-rap" backing track could come across as a risk only someone who has earned as much as he has would take.  It is truly a manifestation of the attitude of "Well, I'm far enough in I can do this now, and if it fails, I won't be broke if it does."  And if it is vocal dexterity you want - check out "Rap God" at roughly 4:25 - while it may traffic in some of his sarcastically offensive and/or homophobic rants, that 4:25 mark brings in a "Guess what, you doubted me, listen to THIS!" moment that can hardly be ignored.

This isn't a perfect album back to back.  It has a bloated midsection ("Survival" and "Legacy" come off as filler of the worst kind.  Later on "Stronger than I was" and "Monster" are equally forgettable.  But when this album hits, it hits hard.  He gets away from the endless ranting against his mother (even going so far as to offering "Headlights" as a conciliatory track) and moves on to other subjects - more about his estranged father, more reflecting on the impact his oeuvre will have on those who listen to it.  Sure, he still traffics a bit much in familiar territory, but the lyrics themselves reveal it - i.e. "What good is a recovery if I fumble it?"  He certainly hasn't scored a 60-0 game of football here, but he's managed to do what he does best, yet still evolve and sound more like what he is - a man in his 40's reflecting on what he's done so far vs. the scrappy young whoever-he-was trying to prove himself from 1999.  Proof for sure that the 60-0 streak of perfection in album form may yet still be in him.

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