For the better part of the past 20 years, Eminem has sustained his pop culture dominance by both attempting to critique and feeding into the very essence of American celebrity culture. With that dominance has come an increasingly convoluted array of racial double standards, underwhelming albums, and the slow but sinking feeling that the once biggest button-pusher in hip-hop no longer knows how to work the controls.
On his first three major label albums, Em often drifted between a referendum of that same hypocrisy—which made his brand of rap more appealing—and an all-out exploitation of violence. With his motives never fully clear, and many of his lyrics resting on the shoulders of concepts ranging from politically incorrect to objectively abhorrent, the lasting appeal of Eminem has always hinged on the idea that his music could tap into the dark and primal emotions of his listeners.
Unfortunately, as Eminem and his listeners have aged, and society around him has progressed, the voltage of his shock rap lost its electromagnetism, forcing one of the most captivating MCs of all-time to reboot his own system using thousands of empty rhyme schemes and punchlines. On “The Real Slim Shady,” Eminem lamented, “I’m like a headtrip to listen to / And I’m only giving you things you joke about with your friends inside your living rooms,” but 17 years later, those same jokes are no longer funny.
The same artist who once positioned himself as the outlier of American pop culture, a man that was here to exploit its biggest hypocrisies, has found himself latching onto the very same diluted pop music tactics that he initially found so appalling.
Now, with the arrival of Revival, Eminem has officially entered an artistic black hole, a place where his critics don’t even care to hate his music enough to make it truly matter, and his fans look on as the artist they grew up adoring slowly fades into obscurity in front of their eyes. Based solely on the album's first two singles ("Walk On Water" and "Untouchable"), Eminem appears to be showcasing a more reflective side of himself, but this star-studded list of supporting guests actually has me nervous about pressing play. But pressing play is what I'm here for so...
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
1. "Walk On Water" ft. Beyoncé
Ahh, the lead single. Instead of opening the album with his usual shock and awe approach, he wisely decided to kick off this 19-track affair with a much simpler approach. Kudos to him there. But why is Eminem shaking me and screaming in my face, “THIS IS SERIOUS! LOOK AT HOW SERIOUS I AM!”? I can’t help but wonder if Beyoncé knows that this song exists in its entirety or if she thought this was going to be played over a commercial asking for donations to stopping world hunger. Eminem's disjointed flow is bothering me now as much as it did the first time I heard this record, but I appreciate the sentiment. This end gives more hope as we approach the unknown. Here we go…
Haunting piano keys are a nice start. I like the hi-hats too and...oh no, Em already dropped a, “It’s such a breeze when I pen rhymes / I just have that air about me like wind chimes.” So far he's riding the beat in a straight line, I’ll live with it. It sounds like Eminem has been listening to a lot of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. There’s the old Eminem singing on the hook. He's back in his bag in terms of song structure. The beat breakdown on the hook isn’t anything to write home about but it’s serviceable. Em just said, “Sometimes I overdo it.” Yeah, no shit. Ironically, this track doesn't feel overdone—yet. Em’s pen game here is less awkward than “Walk On Water” and his rhyme schemes are more technical. He’s rapping to Proof and I’ve got the feels. Em’s comparing himself to Proof’s aspirations. A quick depressing violin outro to end the song. A strong record.
3. "Chloraseptic" ft. Phresher
This beat is Yeezus-esque and it's blaring. We’ve got some weird synths and choir hums in the background. I have no idea what Eminem is rapping about here, but he’s talking about murdering someone. He just said “I’m at your neck like Pez dispenser,” and the walls in my living room just started bleeding. The hook has arrived. I'm happy to hear Phresher isn't an unlockable Street Fighter character but instead, a really awful rapper who sounds like if Sean Paul rapped through a voice distorter. Eminem is rapping like Drake on “Worst Behavior” and my worried meter is starting to tick. There are still four minutes left before this song ends. Em just said, “I’ll put you in your place like a realtor, boy.” In case there was any confusion, Eminem is actually a URL battle rapper from 2012. This beat is saving Eminem in much the same way someone saves a person who fell off a cliff in the movies by having them grab their outstretched hand but the audience knows they’re both about to die. Back to blowjob raps and MILF jokes. In an alternate universe, the producer gave this instrumental to Big Sean and said, “Fuck me up, fam.” Em just did a rhyme scheme about “heads flying, Dez Bryant, tech nines, and Rex Ryan,” and none of it made any fucking sense. Although his cadence isn’t terrible, this is the quintessential “Eminem rapping random shit fast to sound cool” record. He also just said loosey-goosey and the walls are now gushing with blood.
The second single. Eminem’s rapping sounds like Jonah Hill doing slam poetry in 22 Jump Street and I can’t take it. Who approved the beat on the front half of this record? The Cheech and Chong sample makes me physically angry. I can appreciate Em’s conceptual attempt to jump back and forth with different racial perspectives, but that doesn’t excuse his absolute failure in execution both lyrically and stylistically. The second half flows better, with a more traditional instrumental, but then Eminem says, “Why is it, they always treat us like dryer lint,” and racism might actually be worse now. Come to think of it, this second beat sounds like when you search “Eminem type beat” on YouTube. This is the front-runner for worst song on the album.
5. "River" ft. Ed Sheeran
Okay, it’s actually happening. This sounds like an Ed Sheeran cover of Bey’s hook on “Walk On Water.” Oh no, an acoustic guitar instrumental. This sounds like “Love the Way You Tell The Truth.” Em’s going for the broken relationship song in which, 45 seconds into the track, he has delivered an “ex lacks” pun. Does this song come with a copy of the 50 Shades of Grey novels? They added hard-hitting, live drums over the acoustic guitar during the hook because of course they did. The volume of terrible puns on display here is... something. Although, I don't hate the one about Spider-Man and “spite her man.” It was almost refreshing. I’m gonna need the power of Christ to get through the rest of this album. Get God on the phooooone! This is a high schooler’s Facebook status. Eminem’s trying to steer this Titanic mess of a song away from the conceptual iceberg it’s about to hit, but it’s too late, we’ve all drowned. This whole third verse is relationship puns and on some sick level, I respect it. This was as bad in performance as it appeared to be on paper.
6. "Remind Me (Intro)"
Em kicked this off with a “Damn girl.” I’m nervous.
7. "Remind Me"
Is this a Joan Jett sample? This screams Rick Rubin and I don’t know what I did to deserve this song. I need to be tapped out to take a breather. Yoh, are you there? Yoh? Yohhhhhhhhh! This hook seems pretty nonsensical. Em just jumped off on the second verse with, “Your booty is heavy duty like diarrhea,” and I just became a combination of the blinking white guy gif and the crying Michael Jordan meme. Which stage of the revival process was this for Eminem? Is this supposed to be satire about sexual harassment? When Eminem says, “Real tits are still fun / but everybody knows that fake tits are still better than real ones,” is he actually commenting on the superficial nature of a patriarchal society? Am I on drugs? I would like to bring back Ed Sheeran. I will literally do anything. Joan Jett didn’t deserve this.
8. "Revival (Interlude)"
A piano interlude, with whistling and a female voice. I really can’t put a finger on who this is singing but this is so strange juxtaposed to the previous record, which was all about asses.
9. "Like Home" ft. Alicia Keys
This sounds like it's going to be Eminem’s Trump attack track. I know I’m supposed to expect Alicia Keys on the hook, but it feels like Meatloaf could come out at any minute. Ahh, there’s nothing like a, “He tries to divide us, but like Johnny he’ll only unite us,” pun to really to set the mood. Ten years ago, this would have been such a different Eminem record. This is like the Upside Down version of “Mosh.” This is the most uplifting, shit-talking song about a terrible president that has ever been made. Alicia Keys is so drowned out by corny drum patterns and synths that I can barely tell it’s her. Eminem is going in on Twitter Nazi violence, which is funny since they’re probably listening to “Kill You” as I type these words. "But like a dictionary, things are looking up,” way to show those fucking Nazis what’s up. I don’t know if you just threw a sarcastic fist in the sky, but I did. Beneath the messiness of this song, there are some decent shots at Trump. Alicia is about to buy Swizz Beatz a whole new torrent website with the check she must’ve cut for agreeing to do this song. This is “America State of Mind” and my worried meter for this album is reaching critical levels. We're up to three really bad songs in a row.
10. "Bad Husband" ft. X Ambassadors
Nothing says, “Let’s try and course correct three bad songs in a row,” like bringing in the X Ambassadors. What if someone’s job was to be an “ex-ambassador” and they handled all of your future correspondence with your ex? I’m going to patent that idea when I’m done here. As for the music, this is, without a doubt, a Kim song, with a self-serious instrumental that’s just begging you to take it to heart. I’m interested to hear where this goes conceptually, but did we need this song? Is there anything left to say about Kim? Oh lord, this hook. It’s like a remix of Mumford and Sons record with that “Where Are U Now?” song. "Bad Husband" fits into the Revival concept better than anything so far on the album, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. This is Twilight movie trailer music. Eminem just said, “I’m sorry Kim, more than you could ever comprehend / Leaving you was fuckin harder than, sawing off a fucking body limb,” which is literally the worst way anyone could ever apologize to someone ever. I can’t help but imagine Em on a date talking about his past relationship and it feeling like self-amputation. What is this Dr. Seuss rhyme scheme at the end here?
11. "Tragic Endings" ft. Skylar Grey
Why are all these songs named like young adult novels? The muted drums and basslines are complementing this Skylar Grey intro well. A positive! This has the makings of another self-pity track. This far into the album, I expected more than two politically-driven songs, but here we are. I’m digging the production; very Just Blaze. This is another relationship song. This album is made up of the most depressing material and songs literally about ass. Wait, that actually might be every Eminem album. This Skylar Grey hook is pretty intoxicating. I’m a sucker for the occasional organ sound at the end of a four-bar structure, which easily makes this beat the album's best so far. Skylar Grey is dominating the “bad relationship that keeps pulling me back” hook game and is clearly atop the power rankings for this album in that category.
I like the way this beat is bleeding out from the previous track. Okay, Em showed up for this one. I can’t place the sample, but THIS might actually be the best beat. After a strong start, Em is engineering this one off the tracks. This is another humorous horrorcore song. Very Relapse-esque. This beat is hard as fuck, but it's being completely wasted on the most unnecessary of storytelling raps. All I can follow is something about Ivanka Trump being locked in Em’s trunk and, holy shit, I arrived at the hook and I’m upset all over again. Em deserves kudos strictly for changing things up and taking a break from the relationship songs, but this record is a complete contradiction to everything Em didn’t want us to make fun of him for on “Walk On Water.”
13. "Nowhere Fast" ft. Kehlani
This sounds eerily similar to... several songs on this album. I'd press pause and check but then Z would be mad at me for breaking protocol. I can’t wait to hear this one during every commercial break during the NBA Finals. Is this a political record? “We’re never looking back and we’re never getting old / The skies are black, but are hearts made of gold.” These lyrics are deep, I need hip boots. This album keeps shifting between a motivational poster from 2005 and a dirty coffee table book that you’re embarrassed to leave out. If you listen closely enough, you can hear Kehlani’s good graces from earlier this year being washed away. There is no way this song has 90 seconds left. I bet that group of rebels that Eleven finds in that really bad episode of Stranger Things season two would love this song. Did Em just end this song with, “Who knows the future for us could hold? Another shooter?...Uh oh,” or have I finally snapped?
I can already tell by the guitar strums that this is another Rick Rubin production. “Lady you remind me of my accents on that Relapse shit / 'Cause you got an ass thick as them accents.” Just set me on fire already. Rick Rubin, legendary producer of all ass-related rap records. Was that a Trump sexual assault joke or just another bad Eminem sex bar? I can no longer tell the difference. This hook is terrible. I’m starting to forget that Rick Rubin was ever a great producer. Maybe “99 Problems” was ghost produced? I can't imagine anyone actually enjoying this song. The female body part lyrics are like an unstoppable force at this point. Ed Sheeran, I’m begging you, come the fuck back. “I could sweat her (sweater) to some degree / but fuck it, I’m the male (mail), let her come to me” has to be a contender for worst pun of the album. I hope Eminem felt revived after recording this record because we all died in the process. Do not resuscitate.
Interesting production. This is very refreshing. Annnnnd Em dropped a Bill Cosby bar. The beat just switched and, holy shit, this hook is AMAZING. Just kidding, it's awful. Here we go again with lyrical vomit. If you’re a fan of just hearing Em rhyme things together, this might be the best song of 2017. Did he just say, “the competition can’t see me, cuz I don’t own a mirror”? That’s not how mirrors work. Of all the attempts at humor on this album, "Offended" at least feels somewhat satirical even if it contains some of the worst bars on the project. Eminem giveth, and Eminem taketh all away. It’s almost like he thinks if he just says names like “Melania” or “Kellyanne Conway” that he’s saying something political. I’ve had it with this song. My will is broken.
16. "Need Me" ft. P!nk
Nothing can lift your spirits like an Eminem song featuring P!nk, right? I’m starting to notice that one of the most glaring issues with this album is that Eminem seems determined to rap over the most over the top production possible. P!nk’s hook feels like it was headed in a political direction but this can’t possibly be another relationship song. Is this a metaphor for America? I’m really hoping I’ve missed the concept completely. Whoever produced this beat just decided to include one of every instrument in existence. This is the Noah’s Ark of beats, but we all died in the flood. If this song is about hip-hop, Em has a really weird outlook. This one ended quicker than I anticipated.
17. "In Your Head"
Is this a "Zombie" sample?! Oh no. The production on this album sounds like Eminem thinks that Lil Wayne’s “Drop The World” was the greatest song of all time. I’m impressed Em managed to make 19 songs with the same three concepts. My Xbox just turned on and loaded up Call of Duty. Is that normal? This is yet another attempt at exorcising his inner demons, but each of these songs has been followed by a complete retread into nonsense. These words feel so empty. He’s rapping to his daughter and apologizing. I feel like I deserve an apology too. How many times can one person go down the same conceptual highway hoping to find a new exit? No line feels as on beat as it should. The next song is approaching. Are we done yet?
The production here is a little darker, but within the same mold of the previous track. Is this another song about Hailie? Em seems to still be haunted by his failed marriage to Kim. The beat and hook are engrossing. Em’s vocals seem like a throwback. Em’s “castle” is his family, but that building is now cold and empty. If this was the aesthetic Em wanted to run with on this album, at least production-wise, I wish he had delivered it much sooner and in greater abundance. This is the best song on the album, assuming the next doesn't top it. He’s now mentioned that he’s a good person no less than three times on this album. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him be this insecure, and maybe that’s why this album lacks the confidence to venture into an unfamiliar musical territory.
Last track, here we go. More pianos, more live drums, more reflective lyrics. Someone is humming behind Em’s voice so you know this is supposed to be taken seriously. Interestingly, though, we've quickly pivoted to Em’s drug addiction and apparent kidney failure. Is the person behind him singing “In The Arms of an Angel”? Is this about Em’s brother? This got real, real quick. Lyrically, this is a stunner, but Em completely whiffed on the production. This is Kanye’s “Last Call” with Em writing something about each person in his life as he’s seemingly dying on the track. No, wait, he’s being...you guessed it...REVIVED. Wait, did he just pull a Kendrick? The album is rewinding back to the last minute of “Castle.” Em is reversing his eventual death by flushing his pills down the toilet. A noble ending. I’m exhausted.
Final (first listen) thoughts on Revival:
Seeing as how it served to resuscitate the absolute worst habits of his career, Revival is a fitting title for Eminem's ninth studio album. Over an almost impossibly long 77 minutes, Eminem jumps from faux-introspection to corny breakup songs to outdated shock rap, all of which leads to two conceptually intriguing records that were buried at the bottom of the track listing.
If you’re someone who is always looking for reasons to cite why Eminem has lost "it" as an artist, Revival is Exhibit A. On the flipside, if you’re a fan searching for hope that your Lord and Savior regained his peak form, it may be in your best interest to pretend this album doesn't exist.
Revival is a mess from start to finish, an album that wants you to believe that Eminem is an artist willing to change and progress as both a rapper and human, and then completely betrays your trust with incredibly bad punchlines and contradictory commentary that leaves his most sincere moments as empty as they've ever been. The production is at best sporadic and, at worst, objectively bad. Em’s promise (and innuendo) of a more politically charged album only materializes on three of nineteen songs, with its ridiculousness ironically serving to highlight the exact poisonous symptoms of American life he seems to think he’s curing.
This album is a Revival in the same way that Frankenstein’s monster was a revival of human life. It is the reanimation of something that should have stayed dead, and once it tries to come alive, it can only mimic the actions it already knows as opposed to learning anything truly new.