Listened to: MP3
Ok, so it’s been a while, but let’s kick things off right with what some people argue to be Eminem’s best album, The Eminem Show. The album opens with the eerie tones of a soft piano, like a Danny Elfman score, on the first skit “Curtain Up”, and moves into one of Eminem’s most political and dark songs, “White America”. “America, hahaha, we love you, how many people are proud to be citizens of this beautiful/Country of ours, the stripes and the stars for the rights that men have died for to protect,/The women and men who have broke their neck's for the freedom of speech the United States/Government has sworn to uphold, or/(Yo', I want everybody to listen to the words of this song) so we're told…”. Clearly the demons that haunted Marshal so much on Marshall Mathers LP are still here, but from the get go, the album is much more cynical. While tackling the same subject as songs like “The Real Slim Shady”, except now he seems resigned to being vilified, rather than trying to defend himself. “I/ Could be one of your kids, white America, little Eric looks just like this, white America, Erica/Loves my shit, I go to TRL, look how many hugs I get…” From the clown prince of rap to the martyr Marshall, Em enters his third stage on this album, defeated but defiant nonetheless.
The second track, “Business”, features Em taking the bleak, dark tone from the first track and carrying it through to an attack on the rap industry of the time, playing he and Dre as a Batman and Robin taking on the Joker (Insane Clown Posse). Even if you’re not feeling the rhymes on these first two tracks, it’s impressive to note that all the songs of homicide and violence on Slim and Marshall, and yet in two tracks, with rarely a mention of bloodshed, this album takes on a far darker tone than either of those albums as a whole. The third track proves to be one of the most personal Em has ever done, “Cleanin’ Out My Closet”. All the pain that had been accrued in his lifetime, he spits it all out on this track. It’s bleak, hopeless, repentant, and even if he’s sarcastic when he says he “never meant to hurt” his mama, you can’t help but hear the apologetic tinge on this track that would later seep from albums like Relapse and more prominently Recovery. While not as catchy or fun as some of his more well known hits, “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” is one of his most intimate and finest tracks.
“Square Dance” opens with an accordion worthy of the band of corpses from Nightmare Before Christmas, and moves into one of Slim’s scariest tracks (seriously, listen to this with the lights out and try not to feel creeped out). Set aside the bleak, bizarre sounding chorus worthy of being on mixed in with “Revolution #9”, lyrics like:
“Oh yeah don't think I won't go there,/Go to the Beirut and do a show there/Yeah you laugh till your motherfuckin' ass gets drafted,/While you're at band camp thinkin' the crap can't happen,/Till you fuck around,/Get an anthrax napkin,/Inside a package wrapped in saran Wrap wrapping,/Open the plastic and then you stand back gasping,/Fuckin' assassins hijackin' Amtracks crashing,/All this terror America demands action,/Next thing you know you've got Uncle Sam's ass askin'/To join the army or what you'll do for there Navy.” are about as bleak as it can get in the post-9/11 world Em (and the rest of us) had inherited in 2003. “The Kiss (Skit)” finally has Em interjecting some humor into an overall somber album, and smoothly leads into “Soldier”, where finally Em’s rhythm become the focal point of the song, his violent, rapid fire spitting jutting out from the music (while I admire the earlier, more blended tracks, I kinda like the way Em’s rhymes can cut like a razor in the air when pulled from the beat, you know?). The fact is, though, that even this track, which rhythmically and beat-wise sounds like it could fit on any other album, is much more intricately produced. It’s one of the few rap albums I’ve heard to create a sounds cape, like Brain Eno’s another Green World if it were ghetto and grim. Listen to the marching, even the chimes towards the end. There’s a dark beauty to these tracks. The next track, “Sayin’ Goodbye To Hollwood” keeps that dark tone, even though it gets bouncier and lyrically has the feel of something off of Slim Shady LP. “Drips” is under whelming, considering the quality of every track before it. On another album, perhaps Slim, this would have been good, but mixed in with all these dark personal tracks, Obie Trice’s explicitly and unnecessarily specific sexual rap (seriously, it’s kinda terrible) just feels horribly out of place.
Of course, this brings us to the lead single off of the album, “Without Me”. Every Eminem album (besides Recovery) has one of these “time capsule” tracks. Em taking his Slim Shady persona to it’s clowniest, creating a classic video in sharp, brilliant color and zany, high speed antics. These are the tracks that every casual listener remembers, that we know all the words to, but that in the grand scheme of the album, don’t really fit with the tone. Watch this video:
Does this really fit with the album’s feel? The rest of the album (thus far, at least) feels like something more at home with Francis Bacon or Dariusz Wolski rather than this kind of wordplay and color.
But let’s set aside it’s lack of purpose in the album’s theme, and appreciate how fantastically catchy the track is. It’s without a doubt one of Em’s most memorable and most fun, and is definitely in the back of any of my generation’s minds, as we all knew “The FCC won’t let me be” etc. by heart. The next track is a skit, “Paul Rosenberg”, of our beloved Paul from the last album returning once again via phone call to inform Em to leave his guns at home. I guess it goes here as a way to sort of reduce the silliness a bit to lead into one of my favorite Eminem tracks, and indeed one of his most serious and biting, the Aerosmith sampling “Sing For The Moment”, featuring Perry and Tyler themselves.
The first time I heard this song was in 7th grade health class, when we studied the lyrics to this track (as well as “Civil War” by Guns N’ Roses because the teacher was chill like that) to discuss violence in the media. “In the land of the killers, a sinners mind is a sanctum” is really a line that strikes the listener, and makes them wonder if Em’s statement that he’s not very smart is in fact selling himself extremely short. One of the few rap songs I know that I’m certain has to be amazing live with a full band, “Sing For The Moment” is undeniably one of Em’s best, one of his most passionate and pointed, and definitely deserved a better video than it got. Plus, that Joe Perry guitar solo at the end just proves that man can tear it up in any genre.
“Superman” is sorta…bland. It’s an examination of his past relationships, but the misogyny oft complained about in Eminem songs is out on this track in full effect, and a lot stronger and seemingly more unnecessary. Yeah, this is one of those tracks I tend to skip over on this album. “Hailie’s Song” brings it all back, though, as Em analyzes his family life, it really lets the listener into Em’s emotional state. It’s mellow, somber and caring, plus it’s nice to hear him sing (he’s not that bad at all). Apparently he never performs it live, but he had ought to. It’s quite touching to hear him sing and rap with love about his daughter. Hailie has been mentioned on several tracks, but it seems like now on this track she’s no longer just a lyric, but a real part of his life.
After “Hailie’s Song”, we have the return of my favorite recurring character, “Steve Berman”. Em and Steve’s interactions are always a highlight for me, and this short segment involving Em shooting Steve (which is referenced later on Relapse) is a nice bit of fun before “When The Music Stops”, a dark track in keeping with the tone of the first half, as bouncing as “Square Dance” but far more intense and featuring some great guest rappers. “Say What You Say” brings in Em’s mentor Dr. Dre to join him for the track, and while it’s a decent enough beat, the track feels sort of empty when listened to in the grand scheme of the album, and is so forgettable I’m sure most people only listen to this track when putting on the CD and not having the energy to reach for skip. “Till I Collapse” switches of Dre for Nate Dogg, and as one can tell from the get go, is the superior track of the two. The stomp-clap combo (a la “We Will Rock You”) the fury from the rhymes Em spits, that soundscape I so praised at the start of the album, Nate’s perfect vocal hook, it all comes together here to create a brilliantly intense track that is often forgotten from this album but indeed deserves far more attention than it got.
“My Daddy’s Gone Crazy” is by far one of the most unsettling tracks on the album, because of his “touching” incorporation of Hailie (yeah, that’s his daughter’s voice). It’s such a fun track, and it’s nice to hear a girl whose gone through so much turmoil in her life having fun, and I guess this is Em’s answer to “Take Your Daughter To Work Day”, but the truth is I don’t know how great this track would be if Hailie wasn’t on on it. Yet she is, so I’ll admit it’s catchy and fun. This is the final track on the album not counting “Curtain Close”, and I gotta be honest, it’s a good way to end it.
The Eminem Show is undoubtedly one of his best, possibly his best (though personally I’m a little partial to Marshall Mathers LP). It’s got a dark tone and a serious purpose, it shows a maturing artist at the peak of his game, tackling all his problems in stride and producing some of his greatest hits (Em produced virtually the whole album). Nobody summarized this album better than Q Magazine (May, 2006), who said “His two first albums aired dirty laundry, then the world's most celebrated rapper examined life in the hall of mirrors he'd built for himself.” After this album, all of us eagerly awaited Encore, when Em would achieve even greater musical prowess and fill our radios with incredible tracks. And we certainly weren’t let down at all, right? Who didn’t love “Just Lose It”? Right? Right? Anyone? Yeah, it’s all downhill from here in his ouvre, kiddies.
The fact is, if you’re in any way a fan of rap, you probably have already heard this. If not, be sure to seek it out. It’s also by far Em’s most accessible album, so for those of you with weak stomach’s and virgin ears and you wanna get into Mr. Mather’s masterwork, this would be the place to start.
Next up (who knows when that will be, though) is a drastic change of tone, #239: Let It Be by The Replacements.