- 13 Feb 20
Tiring shock and awe from hip-hop's angriest 40-something.
Marshall Mathers’ cup runneth over with bile and bitterness on his surprise-released 11th studio album. The big talking point is obviously ‘Unaccommodating’, with its appalling quip about the 2017 Ariana Grande Manchester arena bombing – for which he has been correctly upbraided by that city’s mayor (I was going to repeat the line here – but why bother? It’s lame and nasty).
Middle age can be cruel to us all. With Eminem, rather like Morrissey before him, it has had a curdling effect. The spiky wit that glistened so irresistibly on his early LPs has turned rusty and redundant. He is so terribly, pointlessly, angry – at rival rappers, the media (ooh, the media), random family members who have supposedly done him wrong.
Is it possible that a more nuanced rapper might have channelled such resentments into meaningful art? Perhaps – though they would surely also have judged taunt about the Manchester bombings a provocation too far.
Nuance is conspicuously absent throughout. And even when Mathers imagines himself on the side of the angels, old-white-guy raging at the world overtones are hard to look past. That’s especially true of single ‘Darkness’, a pro-gun control anthem that gets caught up in the barbed wire of Eminem’s misanthropy.
“Leaning out the window… Finger on the trigger/ But I’m a licensed owner / With no prior convictions/ So law says the sky’s the limit.” He’s a wrinkly dude, shouting at traffic.
He at least takes the time to rope in some interesting guests. Young MA pops up on ‘Unaccommodating’. And we are treated to the irresistible vista of Ed Sheeran rapping about his “Alexa” on ‘Those Kinda Nights’. The most haunting spot is by the late Juice WRLD, who features on the all-conquering ‘Godzilla’, undoubtedly the strongest of the 20 tracks.
Music To Be Murdered By is very loosely conceptual, in so far as it inspired by the Jeff Alexander Orchestra’s 1957 curio Alfred Hitchcock… Presents Music To Be Murdered By. That record featured spoken word riffs from the father of the modern thriller and Hitchcock pops up again in sampled form on the Eminem LP.
Alas, any commentary Eminem might be making about his debt to Hitchcock or cinema is overshadowed by the anger, the shouting, and the misplaced humour. Marshall Mathers is among the great rhymers of his generation. And it’s possible that he still has something worthwhile to say. But he needs, badly and urgently, to calm down first.