Review: Eminem can still hop on Revival, but the jury is out on how hip he still is

Even Mr. Slim Shady knows he may have set the standard too high.

click to enlarge Eminem, whose new album 'Revival' is streaming below. - By Marshall Mathers (Eminem) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Marshall Mathers (Eminem) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Eminem, whose new album 'Revival' is streaming below.


A high-school English teacher of mine once told me an interesting anecdote about prefacing your own work. It was before a class presentation, with me comically quipping about my project in the hope of lowering any lingering expectations.My teacher quickly jumped up from behind his desk and, as he usually did, inexplicably dove into a story before the class.

It began with him retelling an evening where he was having friends over for dinner, and gestured to his wife that he would cook. Unprepared for the job, he sweated over dinner nonetheless, and as their friends arrived he began to set the table. With the food before them, guests picked up their silverware and told him how delicious everything looked. Yet in a nervous recoil, he began to poke fun at this cooking abilities and the food itself, so much so that his friends went from salivating over the steaming plate to puzzling over whether or not it was edible.

It was here in the story my teacher put his hand on my shoulder and told me, “In the end, the food was great, everybody enjoyed it. But was it necessary to open by discrediting my work?”

From the dinner table to my music desk, this story reminded me of the rollout, and tracklist of Eminem’s newly released Revival, the first LP from Mr. Slim Shady in over four years.

After a fiery MTV cypher in which Em ripped the President, he announced his return after a nearly half-decade hiatus. Shortly thereafter we received the rollout and first single off Revival, “Walk On Water (feat. Beyonce.)”

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Commercially the song has performed as well as most Beyonce features do, and did so perhaps on design; the latter half of Eminem’s career has thrived largely on recruiting the catchy and pop leaning vocals of superstars like Rihanna, P!NK, and now Beyonce. However, the more interesting aspect is how Eminem seems to be bracing for critical backlash on the very first track of Revival.

“Why are expectations so high? Is it the bar I set?” Eminem raps, in an unexpectedly slow and reflective intro. “Knowin’ that no matter what bars I come with you’re gonna harp, grip, and that’s a hard Vicodin to swallow.”

So why is Eminem, considered one of the best emcees of his generation, readying himself and the eagerly listening public to the idea that 2017 Eminem won’t live up to expectations? This may in part be due to the fact that the 45-year-old — now 18 years removed from the release of The Slim Shady LP — simply knows he won’t.

Despite his efforts at lowering your expectations on the opening track, Eminem still has enough in the tank to surprise you on this new LP.

Over the 19-song tracklist, Eminem does a solid job of sprinkling in solid bars over the largely Dr. Dre and Rick Rubin-produced beats. “Castle,” “Offended,” and “Chloraseptic” all ditch the habit of depending on features (“Chloraseptic” still minimally features PHRESHER) and see Slim return to true form; scratchy, anthemic beats dominated by effortless and fury-driven flows where Eminem’s storytelling feels as empowering as it is hit-worthy and catchy. He also re-upped on his preference for rock-flipped beats, using Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock N’ Roll” on the track “Remind Me.” It’s not to say that the feature tracks are bad. Hell, the Ed Sheeran song is catchy enough to play twice. But did Eminem become a rap icon (or rap god, if you will) due to being catchy? No.

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“It’s the curse of the standard,” he raps, reminding himself and his fans of just why it is we expect so much even two decades into a legendary career. You don’t chart 10 No.1 albums and sell over 170 million records off the strength of some catchy hooks. But on this new record, he seems more than fine demonstrating his expertise in spurts, letting the big name features pick up the album when his own flow on other songs will likely leave something to be desired.

Revival is similar to another 2017 return album, JAY-Z’s 4:44, in that in its first play through it’s more than fine. There’s enough on their to revive your passion for early 2000s Slim and catchy enough that it’ll probably provide a few tracks for you to bump through the new year. Since its Eminem, it may be even be nomination-worthy at the next music awards cycle. But a month from now, odds are you will be shuffling through something else.

As Andre 3000 recently put it in his recent GQ interview, “You can always hop, but you won’t always be hip.”

On Revival, Eminem has more than enough to show he can still hop, but leaves it for you to decide just how hip he still is.

Listen to the record below. Call your local record store to see if it is carrying the release.

Critic’s Rating — 3/5

About The Author

LJ Hilberath

Franz “LJ” Hilberath is a Clearwater-native who contributes to Creative Loafing's Music section. He previously served as an intern and is now a freelance contributor for all things music.LJ can be found in the field reviewing concerts and music festivals around the country, and also works interviews for both local...
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