By Mark Guarino
What do you do after you’ve sparred with neo conservatives, the religious right, the liberal left, gay activists, your mom, Michael Jackson and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog?
That’s the challenge for Eminem, who is now 30 and — four albums into his role as the pied piper of hip-hop psychodrama — arguably the biggest pop star in the world. After two albums about slicing and dicing his mother, ex-wife and host of celebrities, he stepped up to the microphone and put his considerable talents to work on “The Eminem Show” (Aftermath/Interscope), his last album in 2002 that skewered government hypocrisy and racism run rampant in the American Heartland.
Pretty bold words for someone who could easily be dumped like a Dixie Chick in the era of Michael Powell’s FCC. But that didn’t happen and on “Encore” (Aftermath/Interscope), his follow-up in stores today, he goes even further. “Mosh,” one of his most chilling tracks, is a rebel yell in the tradition of Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” and the Clash’s “Know Your Rights.” Set to a military beat with dark synths lurking, the rapper tells his fans to be on high alert for the “psychological war” their government is waging on their behalf. “Strap (Bush) with an Ak-47/let him go fight his own war…no more blood for oil,” he raps.
It’s exciting and bold stuff and controversy of a different caliber. If he stuck to powerful statements over the course of one album, it would become a masterpiece amidst the clichés and shallow materialism of mainstream hip-hop.
Unfortunately, regression runs rampant. “Encore” is ultimately the laziest album from the rapper known as Marshall Mathers. His wit translates to poo-poo jokes and his targets are the same Hollywood celebrities as expected. What was once funny is stale, what was once shocking is not.
With producer Dr. Dre returning, no beats on “Encore” sound as novel as any of their previous collaborations. The mostly uptempo tracks (“Just Lose It” is a dancefloor winner) feel like filler with Eminem’s lyrics that tread the bottom of the barrel — not just because of the subject matter (he hates his ex-girlfriend so much, one song is called “Puke” and features plenty of it), but because everything out of his mouth is so pitifully easy and expected.
He and Dre turn over a few sonic tricks — a clarinet noodling Dixieland riffs over the rain of bathroom vomit, the deconstructionist track “Rain Man” that is self-aware to comic effect, and “Like Toy Soldiers” featuring a children’s choir — but they don’t mask the fact that most everything here is a flailing attempt to keep a franchise afloat.
Eminem can crack a good joke as he has been for years now, but it has little lasting effect lately. Unless his bubblegum rap grows up, this might be an encore for real.