By Mark Guarino
How perfect is it that Eminem’s newest debuts Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial opening gate for Hollywood sequels?
Yoda, meet your soul brother. Like the current Star Wars flop, and upcoming repeats from Austin Powers and Men in Black, Eminem’s third album is a franchise retread motored by familiarity. The Detroit clown prince proves he’s the most talented rapper working today, his lyrical speed and wit remain dizzying.
Too bad these songs have a two-year stink. Inflating his cartoon celebrity is once more the gameplan, and it’s enforced by second generation beats, collaborators, skits and obsessions. Call it nostalgia, but in double time. The full-frontal controversy created by the “The Marshall Mathers LP” (Interscope)— the FCC banishment, Grammy backlash, court dates with his mom and ex-wife — were a marketing department’s dream come true, boosting sales to 8.7 million to date. But while that album remains a genuine phenomenon, its follow-up has the air of cash register appeasement.
And his label is aiming for surefire sales. “The Eminem Show” (Interscope, 2 stars) hits stores today, a decision made late last week that’s unprecedented in the music industry (albums are typically released on Tuesdays). Shifting the release date forward a week (it was due June 4) and then by three more days, the label is trying to compete with illegal internet downloads. But if the rushed-up Sunday release switch will test anything, it’ll be fan allegiance. Supporters of free downloads say they whet the fan’s appetite for the real deal. Record labels — traditionally slow to embrace the new technology — insist they’re being ripped off. So they’ve layered the disc with DVD extras to make sure fans get out their cash after they’ve put away their mouse.
They may be on to something. The digital bells and whistles are the only tangible allure of “The Eminem Show.” Otherwise, fans will find the rapper frozen in a familiar role. “We need a little controversy/because it feels so empty without me,” he says (“Without Me”).
He has it the other way around. “Cleaning Out My Closet” — the catchiest song here — has promise of a personal house cleaning, but it ends up a refried diatribe aimed at ex-wife and mom. Ratcheting up the naughtiness is another skit where he kills his wife (“The Kiss”), a duet with Nate Dogg blaming women for infecting STDs (“Drips”) and arrows slung at celebrities (Limp Bizkit, Moby) that sting like butter.
Producer Dr. Dre’s spidery beats once more create terrific ear candy, except some recycle Eminem’s biggest hit, “The Real Slim Shady” (“Business”). And “Sing for the Moment,” a hip-hop power balled, borrows from his Grammy buster “Stan.”
The album novelty is the debut of his daughter, Hallie Jade, providing the chorus tag line on the catchy “My Dad’s Gone Crazy.” Other than that, the upcoming Eminem summer (his tour stops at the Allstate Arena Aug. 1 and his film acting debut hits screens July 15) could borrow from George Lucas and be billed, “Attack of the Clones.”