The career of Eminem is an up and down road in the world of hip hop, laced with masterful artistry and controversy. Since his debut with Infinite back in 1996, Eminem’s discography has embodied the many struggles he has endured throughout his life (along with the struggles he’s brought upon himself). His work not only stands as some of the best within hip hop, but within music as a whole. Now more than two decades into his career, Eminem releases his ninth studio LP, Revival.
It’s over the past four albums that we’ve begun to see a noticeable shift in lyricism and tone from Eminem; whereas the Slim Shady persona pops in and out throughout his material, he’s brought more maturity into his work. So much of his music has always been that of self-reflection in the moment, and upon the release of Recovery, we’ve begun to see more of that reflection directed towards the past. It’s this latter element that makes for Revival‘s greatest asset; for there are some select tracks on the album that, through their reflective and dark storytelling, make for some of Eminem’s best work in years. However, to get to these powerful songs, one must wade through other tracks that don’t provide nearly as much depth or intensity in their storytelling.
Revival begins with “Walk On Water”, which happens to be a shining example of when the material is at its best. The song details his reflection on his past work, and always feeling the pressure to have to come up with something new to please fans. Lines such as, “It’s the curse of the standard/ That the first of the Mathers discs set/ Always in search of the verse that I haven’t spit yet/ Will this step just be another misstep/ To tarnish whatever the legacy, love or respect I’ve garnered?”, offer us brilliant insight into the rapper’s mind. Combined with a minimal piano progression, the song is an incredible introduction, kicking things off with tremendous emotion. However, it doesn’t take long for Revival to stutter after this. “Believe” is a big shift in tone compared to the previous track. In trying to match the pacing of the trap instrumentation, what we get is a somewhat winded sounding Eminem. The vocal flow is awkward, and comes off as goofy.
The story of “River” centers around an abusive relationship, the lyrics feeding into the ever building tension of the song. And like many other records within his career, fans can expect more than one song about abusive relationships on the album (such as “Tragic Endings” and “Need Me”). While this is a popular theme to find within Eminem’s music, the issue for Revival is that these tracks don’t offer much to set themselves apart from one another. Other than the difference in instrumentals, they all feel like slightly different versions of “Love The Way You Lie”. But where Eminem does succeed in talking about relationships is in the song “Bad Husband”. The song is a career high for him, the material acting as a reflection on his regrets and abuse towards his ex-wife Kim. It’s lyrics such as, “You hit me once and that I would use/ To continue the pattern of abuse/ Why did I punch back? Girls, your dad is a scumbag,” that provide such intense emotion. Taking the time to call out is misogyny leads to a song that feels like it has some real heart behind it.
If we don’t include the two interlude tracks, Revival is 17 songs long. That’s a lot of material to take in and analyze with each story. The problem though is that a good portion of these tracks don’t offer nearly as much personal insight that we would come to expect from a veteran in the hip hop game. “Heat” is Eminem’s attempt to bring out the Slim Shady persona, and it just doesn’t work. We’ve come to expect a more mature rapper at this point that, while he still may be playful and can talk shit, doesn’t really have to resort to lyrics about stalking women. On the flipside of things, his anti-Trump song “Like Home” is powerful in how it calls out the hatred and bigotry that is Trump and the GOP. The track has Eminem stating his love for his country, and how Trump will not be able to divide the American people. The instrumentals pack an ever building excitement of brightness and bass that add an extra layer of pounce to the lyrics. The song includes emotional lines such as, “But there’s always tomorrow still/ If we start from the scratch like a scab, get the scars to heal/ And band together for Charlottesville/ And for Heather, fallen heroes, fill this wall with murals,” paying tribute to those who continue to fight hatred, and how we can all stand as one. The record’s last three songs are some of his best work to date. “In Your Head” speaks of his past regrets and difficulties that he has gone through and brought upon himself. There are a lot of “Stan” vibes in the instrumentals, making for one of the record’s most somber works. “Castle” focuses on his reflection and fears of having his daughter Hailie grow up in the spotlight of a famous person, and the difficulties that may present. “Arose” ends the album with him talking about his near death experience back in 2007, going over his regrets and the people he loves in life.
Revival is a mixed bag that offers variety. On one end of this spectrum, we have empty songs that provide no rich sense of emotion, along with off lyricism and vocal flow. It all comes off as repeats of things we’ve heard previously on the album, or from Eminem’s past work. But all this being said, Revival also offers some of the rapper’s best work. These songs provide such a rich sense of connecting with the artist, offering an insight into his life as if we were right beside him. These tracks pack so much power in them, that they help pick Revival up from all its other weaknesses. The album actually could have been absolutely perfect had a good chunk of these tracks been cut, allowing the stronger songs to beam even brighter. So where does Revival sit in the Eminem discography? Even though it includes some of his best songs in recent years, it is far from his greatest album. Since Relapse, Eminem has been on a path of putting out “decent” records. They tend to pack a lot of filler and some fun songs, but also share plenty of personal and deep material. Of his records since Relapse, Revival is the strongest, for it offers fans much more detail into what’s going on within the rapper’s mind. Those specific special songs that fans will find on here bring out the best artistry in Eminem, and display when the rapper has the ability to masterfully blend and write with ferocity and emotion.