fri 21/02/2020

Album: Eminem - Music To Be Murdered By | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Eminem - Music To Be Murdered By

Album: Eminem - Music To Be Murdered By

Slim Shady's surprise return is patchily potent

'Quality control, not passing time, holds Slim Shady back'

The middle-aged rap master of provocation has survived into an era of hair-trigger outrage. The wearily dignified response of parents of the Manchester Arena bomber’s victims to an Eminem lyric briefly assuming the killer’s identity has already defused a strictly local scandal, which pales beside his gigs’ picketing in his early 2000s folk-devil prime. What may now appear a tatty grab for headlines is merely the standard MO of a man who also drags John Wayne Gacy, Sharon Tate, multiple other mass American murders and “a Saudi attack when the town collapse” into his new album’s bloody cavalcade.

The mature Eminem is really a liberal, religious, personally mild-mannered American, with a Trump-like penchant for going metaphorically nuclear when crossed, especially when it comes to his unfashionably uncensored self-expression. Being offended at this stage just distracts from the state of his talent on album 11.

Music to be Murdered By takes its title and conceptual conceit from Alfred Hitchcock, but too often recalls his post-Psycho decline. It’s hobbled for much of its length by Eminem’s repetitive, defensive theme since his comeback from pill-addicted depression with Relapse (2010)  just how great he still is. With regular collaborators including Dre and D12’s Denaun Porter, his musical world also remains static if potent. When the first sound you hear is a woman’s screams as Slim Shady digs yet another grave, an autocued Ed Sheeran receives his latest demographic-greedy call-up for the sloppy, druggy nostalgia of “Those Kinda Nights” (nights the MOR strummer and straight-edged Marshall Mathers are equally unfamiliar with these days), and one of the greatest rappers stays resolutely earthbound, the temptation is to turn sadly away.

As so often, Eminem’s true concerns invert his tabloid offences

Then Eminem finds his range. “Darkness” mournfully quotes Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” over enervated keyboards, as we seemingly find Em consumed by performer’s paranoia before a Vegas gig. Then the sweating, depressed narrator with “ammo for all the hecklers” is revealed as the Mandalay Bay casino mass shooter, an assault weapon owner with “no prior convictions”; and what anyway of such fig-leaf byelaws? “Because by the time it’s over, it won’t make the slightest difference.” News reports of the latest gun law-sanctioned US slaughters then overwhelm the sly narrative. As so often, Eminem’s true concerns invert his tabloid offences.

“Leaving Heaven” follows, using his absent, despised father’s death to take a rejuvenating dip in his art’s painful adolescent motherlode. Bolstered by Skylar Grey’s synth-noir singing, he takes comforting pride in “self-empowerment” after awful early years (“It’s only 1% who overcome it... I don’t know if I would call that white privilege”). “Yah Yah” maintains this sudden hot streak, as A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip is among guests revelling in references to rap’s early heroes, before Eminem’s majestic overview of a world still made for him, as Harvey Weinstein and mass shootings merge with Eric B and Rakim in a patented speed demon rap.

His voice’s hard edge now softens and expands into the fantasy revenge of “Stepdad”, and the softer, surreal verbal flights of “Marsh” (“How could I hit a dry spell, I’m named after the wetlands?”), assuming his higher, lighter voice for another ambiguous assault on ex-wife Kim (“My friends say you’re bad for me – hogwash!”).

“Little Engine” considers Hitchcock’s blackly comic art of murder before the curtain is brought down in the Master’s droll voice, reminding you it’s only a movie: “As for the rest of it, I’m very much afraid it was all in your mind... if you haven’t been murdered, I can only say: ‘Better luck next time.’”

There’s so much here that no one else can do, from an artist whose wellspring lies in his ever more distant 20th century past, but hasn’t yet run dry. Quality control, not passing time, holds Slim Shady back.

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