Emimen Revival Album Review

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.

 

A Man of Music

A Man of Music

 

Let’s pretend for a minute that we can squeeze all of the professions in the world into two categories: scientists and artists. To believe that we must broaden our interpretation of each; a scientist discovers and develops while an artist creates and inspires. In this regard, a scientist could be the researcher at NASA developing a new rocket propulsion system, or the CPA of the local retail store developing new strategies to save money. The artist could be the journalist thinking up new articles every day, or the kindergarten teacher thinking up and creating new lesson plans every day to inspire their students. See, it works, everyone in the world is now part of two massive groups. I am a musician; I am a writer; I am an artist. There is very little that gives me more joy than the process of creation, of breaking out my saxophone and delivering a cacophony of luscious sounds, wooing an audience, perceived or otherwise, with my flourishes and dances, or stringing phrases together to sing to the world my thoughts and hopes. But is that good enough? Can I be successful as just an artist? And can someone more scientifically inclined thrive as just a scientist?

A little while ago, I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a brilliant man. I can’t call him more than an acquaintance, for I met him once and shared nothing more than a 20-minute bus ride with him. Hell I don’t even know if he’s brilliant, but I like to pretend he is. I had boarded one of Cleveland’s public buses and took my seat amongst the jarring amount of filth and less-than-reputable Cleveland citizens. I settled in for an uncomfortable ride home from work, when on walks an eccentric Asian, hair sprouting off his head in whatever direction it felt like, glasses constantly sliding down his nose, and a gigantic, toothy, crazed grin. He sits down next to me, doesn’t say a word, reaches in his backpack, still silent, and pulls out a book entitled “The Physics of Music”. He opens it up to a page about half way into it, clears his throat, and starts reading aloud, “Pitch is a purely psychological construct, related both to the natural frequency of a particular tone and to its relative position in the musical scale” and continues on in this regard for quite some time, mentioning nodes, harmonics, oscillations, resonance patterns, before looking up and seeing my absolutely dumbfounded face, at which point he softly closed the book and stared out the window the rest of the time. We arrived at my stop 20 minutes later and that was the end of that relationship.

Inspiration is a peculiar thing. His words stuck with me for whatever reason. It’s not like I hadn’t taken physics before, it’s not like his words were some new amazing discovery. But for the first time, for whatever reason, it got me really thinking about the physics of music. Maybe it was the stifling heat of the bus, or my intent concentration on not staring at the tattered black guy across the aisle cackling to himself. Is pitch really nothing more than a certain frequency of a plucked string? Is music merely vibrating air molecules on a collision course with the eardrum? Music, this intensely personal and emotional art, hobby, and entertainment, can make you appreciate where you are, where you come from, and can make you wonder about the world around you. And it was boiled down to a few lines in a physics book. As we know, music is more than that one line from this book; music is a craft, a piece of art melded by the artist or the listener into what they want it to be. My saxophone instructor has a plaque on his wall with the statement “music is not a science, it’s an opinion, and at its best it’s an emotion”. So how is it that music, this powerful expression of art and humanity, this emotion, can be so fundamentally, so dryly scientific? How can art and science exist together? As the author Robert Sapolsky said, “I love science, and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject, or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awed by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and reinvigorate it.”

Music and the arts are not independent of science and discovery. This quote from “The Physics of Music” captured my curiosity, so I read the rest of the book, and I was intrigued. The book talked about the different applications of music; how the effects of certain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, can be lessened by playing music from that person’s childhood, and how the growth rate of cells can actually be controlled by playing different genres of music near them. In each of these cases, what started with a love of music ended with a scientific breakthrough. What led from these scientific breakthroughs were applications and passions for music.

From this correlation of art and science, this realization and acceptance that they live harmoniously together, we can begin to look at the relationship between the creators of each. For instance, the work of both scientists and artists involve similar stages of development: there is the inspiration and brainstorming stage, where the apple falls on Sir Isaac Newton’s head and where Paul McCartney meets Jude. Next is the experimentation and editing stages. The scientist conducts controlled tests of his theory, and the musician plays through a simple, basic chord progression. Lastly, there is the final product, the Theory of Relativity and the New World Symphony. But what is most in common between musical masterpieces and scientific discoveries is their openness to interpretation and change. Just look at all the arguments over the Mona Lisa’s smile and the existence of the Flat Earth Society. What artists and scientists have in common is their willingness to work in an environment of interpretation and reinterpretation, where ideas are constantly shifting and changing. Things change. Truths change. The scientist knows that his theory is not permanent, that his version of the truth is just that, a version, and will one day be replaced by a new truth. But the artist is not trying to convey a literal truth. There is no definite “truth” in art, merely a snapshot of a universal truth that will evolve and change for each person that encounters it, even through exterior changes in time and society. The scientist’s truth will be developed and supplanted; the artist’s truth will grow and expand.

Scientists and artists. Although able to be independently classified, we must each stretch that sociologically accepted boundary to think like the other. Because although the scientist may be developing theories just to “fill the gap” until the next scientist comes along, they must realize that they must think like an artist, and use they’re scientific advancements to fundamentally change the world. If we take the scientists and the artists of the world and reach across the boundary, break through the barrier holding them apart; squeeze them together…we’re left with one big group. A big group of people. Just people. And the fundamental job of this big group, the goal of all these individuals is to leave our mark, to change the world, whether that’s changing the world as a whole or changing the world for one person. Science and art are never far behind each other. With each discovery in each profession we must look at the connections. Where a musical masterpiece is in its foundation phases, we must look at what that musical masterpiece can do for the world…who it will affect, how it will inspire. When a scientific breakthrough approaches, we must look at how it fits into the world and in what ways it will change the world…who it will affect, how it will inspire. Scientific discoveries and engineered innovations should never just answer the question, but open a mind to the world, and a world of questions. Through artistic creations there is a way to use that to help and to change the world. Through the realization that vibrating particles create sound, a door should be opened, a door to the complexity of music, of the world, and of the human experience. We are all people of music and all people of science, but we should all strive to change the world.

The Sickest Cypher to Date – Shady and SlaughterHouse

Thank goodness for Shady, AfterMath, and SlaughterHouse. The modern rap and hip hop scenes are riddled with clowns who can’t write decent clever bars to save their lives. I’m glad to see some real rappers getting some notoriety, and Eminem deserves a great deal of praise for cultivating this type of genuine rapping. These freestyle bars are sicker than the vast majority of the ones you will hear on record today. Take a listen. Absolute sickness.

The Hook: Hip Hop’s Double Edged Sword

These days, rap or hip hop songs usually need a good hook to get popularly recognized. This has its benefits. It forces collaboration. Let’s be realistic; Eminem, B.O.B, Jay-Z, and Kanye, while all great artists and lyricists, can’t really sing without an auto tune, and often need help to put out hooks which appeal to people outside of the hard rap fan base, an appeal necessary for immense popularity. This dynamic has given us great hooks like those in Airplanes, Love the Way You Lie, and I Need a Doctor. It has also allowed artists like Hayley Williams to become more recognized than they would have otherwise, not that Paramore was struggling. Nevertheless, the desire for a catchy hook has its problems as well.

The necessity for the hook is troubling because it says that we aren’t attentive enough to make it through the first fifteen seconds or so of a song before judging it. Granted, the music industry largely operates under the “impress immediately or flop” mentality, but this has led, at least in the modern age, to songs losing the substance they once had, and those artists with substantial lyrics not getting recognized, at least in hip hop.

Consider the songs with catchy hooks that you remember: Airplanes, Not Afraid, In Da Club, California Love, etc… How much of the rest of the song do you know? How much of Eminem’s lyrics do you remember from Airplanes? Do you remember any of In Da Club except for the hook? Yes, Fifty Cent does write raunchy lyrics, but the actual bars from In Da Club are really sick, and comment on important issues in his life and in the hip hip community, something few people ever recognize. Consider Eminem’s Recovery, how many of the other songs are you familiar with? Cold Wind Blows, Space Bound, White Trash Party? These songs have tremendous lyrics, but do not have the hook to make them sustainable in popularity. If you can’t sing along to it, you’re rarely willing to listen to it. Coincidentally, in the peak days of Pac and Dre, the hook wasn’t really that important, because people focused more on the actual body of the song. Some of Pac’s greatest work like Changes and Hail Mary would be a complete flop in this day and age, and that’s really tragic to think about. Consider incredible linguists like Bone Thugz who do not attain nearly the recognition they deserve because their songs aren’t catchy and are difficult to sing along to.

Every time the next catchy hook comes up, you can see the Facebook statuses changing immediately, pasting the lyrics in an attempt to be creative. The real tragedy, however, is that songs with little to no substance become popular when they shouldn’t. Tinie Tempah should be kissing Eric Turner’s feet and thanking him for Written in the Stars. Kid Cudi and Soulja Boy also both suck in terms of their lyrics. Their bars are terrible, and they can’t rap to save their lives. Yet, both of them are multi-millionaires because they had great hooks. Think about it, how much of Day N Night do you actually know? Snoop Dogg, Lil’ Jon, and Chingy all owe their rises to fame to peoples’ tiny attention spans and desire for unsophisticated lyrics. The hook has forced great lyricists like Fifty Cent and Ludacris to sell out and write about irrelevant trashy things. All the while, there are several struggling rappers who may never make it big because they focus on writing poetic hard hitting bars instead of writing catchy “rap tunes.” Such examples include Real Deal, Illmaculate, and Heartless.

Anyway, that’s my two cents.

Fast Lane – Eminem and Royce Da 5’9

I have become rather disillusioned with music lately. There isn’t a great deal of really good stuff becoming popular, which is kind of tragic, especially in the world of rap. I like hearing substantial lyrics with a great flow, and the so called “rappers” these days don’t do justice to the pioneers like Biggie, Dre, and Pac. Although, I don’t think there’s any question that Eminem is on top of the rap world right now, and I am willing to contend that there is no rapper in the current world who writes or produces verses as good as his. This is one of the newer Eminem hits he did with Royce Da 5’9. I hadn’t heard of Royce before this song, but this particular one is sick, and his other work isn’t bad either. The flow and beat is incredible, and the lyrics are creative. I normally don’t like double time or force multi bars, but these two deliver some absolutely disgusting ones in this song.

http://www.hotnewhiphop.com/en/play/s/730acf5-281756/