Eminem Revival Album Review
Overall Rating: 3/5
Here’s the deal; media outlets love writing over the top incendiary reviews. Either the album is the best ever made, or it’s complete trash. The truth is usually somewhere in between. I write a lot of reviews on this blog for everything from movies to restaurants. Normally, I don’t review music because, really, I don’t know much about it. I know what I like and enjoy, but I’m not really in a position to judge the quality of music. That being said, reading all the vitriol about Revival inspired me to write an actually balanced review of the album. While I don’t know much about other music, rap/hip hop is a bit different of a story. I’m fairly well educated and have listened to it for most of my life.
Here’s the deal. Revival isn’t great, but it isn’t garbage either. Compared to Recovery and the Mathers LP 2, it’s not good, but then again, that’s a standard that’s difficult to meet. Those two albums were legendary, even though they also got some bad reviews.
The real issue with Revival, which wasn’t the case with the previous two albums, is that it doesn’t work well as a cohesive collection. It’s kind of all over the place. With Recovery, Em’s message and styling was clear. It was a pop album which brought his raucous and over the top lyricism to the mainstream with solid collaborations and catchy beats, while at the same time still demonstrating his technical aptitude. The LP 2 was clearly a response to his critics that said Recovery was too much “pop.” With grimy and gritty beats accentuated by the dirtiest technical execution from any rapper in two decades, it was a clear response to people who wanted to see Em’s ability to write bars.
Revival, though, is a little unclear with its messaging. In part, it’s a political commentary with songs like Untouchable (worst song on the album by the way) and Like Home. Eminem has never been known for eloquently discussing political issues in his music, and this album does nothing to change that. The political songs are among the weakest on the album. The technical skill demonstrated in the lyrics is second rate, with basic rhyme schemes and simple vocabulary. The similes are stretched and fall flat, not fitting well into the flow. The high pitched rambling vocals in Untouchable are just basically intolerable. This song, given its content, had so much potential, but it’s unfortunately squandered. I would’ve loved to have seen a beat like on Berzerk coupled with some technical gymnastics to get this message across. Even a Jesus Walks – esque beat would’ve been better despite its predictability. The tone doesn’t suit the subject matter, and it makes it all kind of not work. Like Home is a little closer, but Alicia Keys’s hook is flat, and like Untouchable, the bars are just average at best.
On the other hand, Revival has Eminem waxing reflectively about his own fall from grace, discussing his loss of confidence in tracks like Walk on Water, Tragic Endings, and Castle (sort of). This is where the album really shines. The opener, Walk on Water, is arguably the best song on the album. A “gospely” hook that Beyonce completely slays is the perfect intro to this song and album. A simple orchestral arrangement led by a piano lets Em’s voice really shine. The song lacks any of the internal double/triple rhyming acrobatics Em is so good at, but that’s appropriate for the mature reflective tone. It’s a beautifully constructed work showing a mature Eminem. Tragic Endings is great as well, and I don’t just say that because I’m in love with Skylar Grey. It’s like Beautiful Pain but a little more grungy. Also, in case you didn’t get it, the “her” in the song is hip hop, not an actual woman. The songs where Eminem reflects on reaching the pinnacle and falling from it are excellent, lyrically and musically. They are what make this album shine and will be the tracks that I continue to listen to.
There are also poppy people pleasers thrown in like Remind Me and River, which are usually present on Eminem albums. Those songs are good and catchy, but nothing remarkable. Listen to them for some fun casual tunes.
I think the album would’ve been better served as two separate works. The political songs seem unpolished and rushed, like they were released too early to be at the height of their political relevance. The other works are more thoughtful and refined, and therefore higher quality. The album as a whole is alright. There are some hits to be sure, and also definitely some misses. It’s also different from anything Eminem has ever done before, so it’s cool to see an evolution of his style, even though I thought his old style lent itself better to higher quality songs. If you’re a hip hop fan, you should listen to the album. You won’t like all of it, but you’ll like some of it. That’s generally how these things works, despite what all the reviews and headlines would have you believe.