By the end of 2017, Eminem appeared increasingly adrift. Although popular, the success of 2013’s “The Marshall Mathers LP 2” was at least partially reliant on the nostalgic potency of its title, and was itself riddled with references to Eminem’s own declining influence. His slick, earnest pop-rap crossovers felt increasingly out of step with the resurgence of experimental, socially conscious hip-hop spearheaded by Kendrick Lamar, and the flippant, nihilistic silliness of mumble rap.
“Revival” eschews the boldness and probable divisiveness of a musical sea change in favour of a firm, perhaps fearful, reassertion of Eminem’s new house style. The album brims with pop star features, from Ed Sheeran to Beyoncé; despite, or perhaps because of this, much of “Revival” already feels dated, slotting more smoothly into the musical landscape of the 2000s or early 2010s than late 2017. “Castle” is a drab re-enactment of earlier hit “Mockingbird”, while the stock distorted guitars of “Remind Me” and “Heat” evoke 2013’s cheesy “Berzerk”, with the former’s lyrics ranging from simply lazy—“Girl, you’re smokin’ like Snoop Dogg”—to the horrendous—“Your booty is heavy duty like diarrhoea”.
Perhaps the single most cringe-worthy excursion is “Untouchable”, with Eminem veering between the perspectives of a racist cop jeering to “pull your pants up” and an impoverished black man. Although clearly well-intentioned, the ham-fisted simplicity of the lyrics tramples the nuances of racism into a straightforward binary where police brutality “makes black lives madder/At cops and cops madder/That’s why its at a stalemate”. “River” is strongly reminiscent of Eminem’s 2010 smash “Love the Way You Lie”, and while “Walk on Water” is a vulnerable exploration of the fear the rapper faces in living up to expectations when producing new music, ironically it simply sandwiches these thoughts between syrupy strings and a beige chorus, a musical backing that wholly fails to meet expectations. Tellingly, its conclusion once more leans on Eminem’s past: “Bitch, I wrote “Stan”!”.
The central problem with “Revival” is its complete conservatism, both musically and lyrically. Even as he bemoans the pressure to meet expectations placed on him, Eminem stubbornly refuses to take the risks necessary to meet these expectations. Although a more daring and experimental album would inevitably alienate some fans, “Revival” is the other side of the coin: a perfectly fine, glossy pop-rap album that will offend few, but will which most likely fail to avert the decline of Eminem’s cultural and social relevance. A hesitant and unimaginative release. CO