PLAYING DETROIT: Critics Loathe Eminem’s “Revival”

COLUMNS|Playing Detroit

If you haven’t noticed, the past couple of months have seen Eminem emerge from his private life – one I imagine as a healthy balance of dysfunctional family time and sitting in dark corners thinking of puns – to voice his contempt for our country’s governing body via a trail of singles, ending with his first studio album in four years, Revival. Despite the 45-year-old rapper’s most well-meaning(?) attempts at woke-ness and personal reflection, it’s pretty much a general consensus that the album is an over-commercialized political piece at best and a bloated shitshow at worst. However, as a (metro) Detroit-native who grew up on Slim Shady, it’s pretty much a requirement for me to hold an allegiance to him, even in his darkest hour. Which is why, instead of sharing my personal thoughts on the album, I decided to highlight some of the sickest burns from music journalists across the internet, aimed at the diss-master himself.  

It should come as no surprise that the most scathingly brutal, yet not untrue, review came from Pitchfork. The cool kids who crown themselves “the most trusted voices in music” really know how to hit a guy where it hurts – and make everyone agree with them. Rap contributor Matthew Ismael Ruiz gave the record a stinging 5.0, unimpressed by what he deems “overwhelmingly bland hooks” and “cringe-worthy humor.” Ouch, Matthew! What hurts even more is… he’s not wrong. The clever wordplay that Mathers is known for crosses into really distasteful dad-joke territory with lines like, “I’m swimming in that Egyptian river, ’cause I’m in denial” on “Need Me.” Why, Marshall? Why?  

Ruiz closes with a dig at the record’s recurring theme of self-doubt: “Though it’s easy to empathize with his creeping self-doubt, it’s tougher to swallow in the context of an album that ultimately proves that those doubts are correct.” So much for not listening to the voices inside your head.

The New York Times, who I would normally expect to be a bit more subtle with its abhorrence of a subject, was not shy about loathing Revival. The second writer to describe Mathers’ try at a heart-wrenching patriotic ballad “Like Home” as “toothless,” Jon Carmanica also unleashes his wrath on Eminem’s dry puns. “What has long felt like extreme facility with language is beginning to feel like an uncontrolled fire hose,” writes Carmanica, who continues to elaborate on Mathers’ degenerating lyricism with the song “Framed.” “The song is both excellent and reprehensible, a reminder of how sui generis Eminem felt at the beginning of his career, and how poorly he has aged.” Not everyone can be a fine wine.

While Ruiz and Carmanica slay Shady with intellectual insight and polished rhetoric, I really have to give the creativity crown to Brian Josephs of Spin. The common thread that binds the three writers is a shared disapproval for Mathers’ tired pun-game. Josephs asserts that “nearly every punchline winds up feeling as forced as a stranger sparking a conversation at a urinal.” I could say that, as a woman, I don’t know what that feels like, but I’d be lying. Anyway, Josephs further solidifies his descriptive genius by coining “Need Me” a “vomitous sonic Crayola mess,” thereby raising the bar of shit-talking as I know it.

However, probably the cringiest display of public slander is Eminem’s own description of his songwriting process, given to NPR’s Michael Martin.

“When I’m writing, sometimes an idea or a line will pop in my head, and I’ll be like, ‘Yo, that thought is messed up.’ And I either laugh to myself or I say, ‘You know what? That might be just going too far.’  So, have I ever took it too far? I probably have, who knows?”

What we do know is that despite all of these merciless reviews, Eminem remains the best-selling hip-hop artist of all time (and Billboard reported yesterday that Revival is likely to follow suit), so he probably “Just Don’t Give A F*ck” what we think.

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