Thirteen years is a long time in the music industry; it's a long time in general, but in music it is a long time indeed. Yet, that is just how long it's been since Eminem brought out the first 'Marshall Mathers LP' and after this lengthy wait, the Detroit rapper has brought out the 'sequel' to his much-celebrated sophomore release. His latest album isn't so much a reflection on these past thirteen years as it is a return to the Marshall Mathers of thirteen years ago and on 'MMLP2', Eminem revisits his personas of old: Slim Shady and the angry young white man who is still struggling with his relationships and his demons.
For long-time Eminem fans, ones who may have given up on him after 'Encore' or maybe held on until 'Relapse', 'MMLP2' offers hope of a classic Eminem album, but there is a necessary reluctance to accept it immediately as a return to glory. Whilst caution is advised, some of the cynics may actually be pleasantly surprised.
"Here's a sequel to the 'Marshall Mather LP' just to get people to buy", he remarks on album opener and 'Stan' sequel 'Bad Guy.' He's always been one of the sharpest rappers out there and here, said from the perspective of the grieving brother of the 'Stan' protagonist, Em lets us know that he's well aware of the fact that most people are expecting 'Recovery 2', rather than a 'Marshall Mathers LP' sequel. 'Bad Guy' is our first real surprise then, with Em's storytelling back at its peak, drifting menacingly over the S1/M-Phazes beat. Towards the end of the album, on 'Headlights', his storytelling is again on top form as he reminisces through a troubled forty-plus years as his mother's son. Sure, it's another track aimed at his mother, but Em's lyrics are heartfelt and the song genuinely feels like an attempt at reconciliation. Nate Ruess of fun. fame sometimes distracts away from the delicacy if the song, but his sung parts are a needed break from the wholehearted openness of Em's lyrics.
He is on red-hot fire on 'Rhyme or Reason', angrily, yet still playfully, spitting over the Zombies-sampling beat he produced alongside Rick Rubin. Not only do Em and Rick still have an exceptional ear for a good sample, but clearly Em still knows how to rap around it too. But alas, after the exemplary opener, things tend to get a little wayward from here on in.
If this is supposed to be a return to the Marshall Mathers of old, then why does 'So Much Better' have the same lame choral parts seen on 'Not Afraid?' Is it out of laziness, lack of ideas, or does Eminem genuinely think that big budget, popchestra classes as the 'real hip-hop' he sings about on 'Berzerk' (another disappointing track)?
'Survival' is again much more familiar than it is a hark back to his turn of the century best. Admittedly, his lyrics and technical ability are great here, but when it's up against the uninspired chorus and that nagging feeling in the back of your mind that the only reason this song exists is because Activision told him to make it, then the shine is really wiped off.
The list of disappointments go on, but lets not get weighed down by the 'Stronger Than I Was' tracks and concentrate on the 'Rap God' numbers a little more; after all, celebrating an Eminem album for more than a handful of tracks has become a rarity and on 'MMLP2' at least half of the tracks are pretty damn good. 'Brainless' is real Slim Shady quality, splitting out from the sides with humour, dexterous rhyming and anchored down with Em and Luis Resto's simple but effective piano-laced beat (top marks for noticing the subtle 'Superbad' sample too). His rapping is perhaps the best it has ever been on 'Rap God', flying at lightning speed and embracing the (t)rap of today with Filthy and DVLP's production. He may be embracing the production of today, but as his Hot Stylz parody alone shows, his rapping is "a million leagues" above anyone challenging him.
At times, Eminem can genuinely amaze on this album. His oral deftness is on sight so much, the album reminds us why people still pay attention to Eminem and why a new Em record is still something to look forward to. It is, however, hampered far too often by moments that are uninspiring and, if anything, the album is quite boring at points. How many times do we need to listen to another collaboration with Rihanna and Skylar Grey or another failed attempt to recreate 'Fight For You Right to Party' or '99 Problems?'
The album is never bad, but it is never amazing either and more often than not you can find yourself hitting the skip button, rather than contemplating putting the album on repeat. Easily his best release since 'The Eminem Show', but on the downside, it comes nowhere near the consistency and overwhelming quality of his first three major label releases. As a rapper, Eminem has still very much got it, but it seems like his flirtations with mainstream success have stuck with him and, for the most part, the album suffers because of this. Thirteen years is a long time and in those thirteen years, Marshall has picked up some bad habits in his music making, but fortunately he has managed to keep hold of some of his finest qualities.
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