PLAYING DETROIT: Critics Loathe Eminem’s “Revival”

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.

LIVE REVIEW: Pitchfork Music Festival 2014

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All photos by Ellie White Photography

Pitchfork Fest 2014 came and went in a flash. Literally. Peruse our photo editorial from the weekend, courtesy of  our photo editor, Ellie White, who snagged highlights from all of our favorite shows over the three day extravaganza situated in Chicago’s beautiful Union Park. Our personal faves from the spectacularly-curated lineup this year included sets from the ever-brooding black-metal gents of Deafheaven; glam goddesses in black, the Dum Dum Girls; headliners Beck (whose set topped the best of the fest list for me, hands down without question), Neutral Milk Hotel and Kendrick Lamar (though Danny Brown–who won best hair of all time with his forest green ombre–and Earl Sweatshirt battled it out for best rap performance in our opinion); a stunning, once in a generation set from shoegaze pioneers  Slowdive (Rachel Goswell’s dress looked like sexy, glimmering armor); a wildly exuberant performance from Tune-yards –whose addition of African Dance inspired backup choreography had everyone in a frenzy; Boundary-pushing electronic music from The Haxan Cloak and Factory Floor (um, can we please hear it for that badass drummer??); Intelligent ambient down-tempo from heartthrob Jon Hopkins and a performance from the Range that could put anyone else’s obsession with and knowledge of rap jams to shame. Oh and I think everyone is officially  in love with FKA Twigs and Neneh Cherry.

Honorable mentions include Majical Cloudz, whose keyboard broke after the second song. As a result, lead singer Devon Walsh performed an array of  songs sung acapella (at one point standing up on a chair to belt out Magic, leaving the entire audience in tears), stand up comedy and audience-participation fueled beat boxing. At the end of the set, keyboardist Matthew Otto, so adobrably contrite and just adorable in general, had us all count down from 10, and then proceeded to smash the defunct synth to smithereens for all the world to see. A lifelong dream of his come true, he proclaimed.

All in all it was an amazing, sunny weekend full of cantankerous, gorgeous, feisty, live performances from some of the very best and brightest talent that exists in music today. We can’t wait  to see what the fine folks over at Pitchfork have in store for next year. In the meantime, read on and enjoy.


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