Eminem’s new album decidedly an improvement despite shaky tracks

By Sam Bezjak, The Prowl

No one really knew exactly what to expect with Eminem’s latest release, “Marshall Mathers LP II.” Making an album fashioned after the original “Marshall Mathers LP II.,” which is arguably his best album and a work of art that left an indelible imprint on rap-music writ large, instilled hope in fans that Eminem would be on an artistic upswing after the disappointing one-two punch of “Relapse” and “Recovery.”

It seemed the fairy-tale hopes of Eminem returning to form were dashed upon the cruel rocks of reality when he released his Beastie Boys-aping “Berserk” back in August. He took the hook-laden formula of “Recovery,” combined it with his best Nate Ruess impression (who makes an appearance on the album), and out came a song with easily the most blood-curdlingly awful chorus in recent memory.

But just as critics started to assume that his latest venture would bomb, Eminem bludgeoned the public consciousness with the spry verbal assault known as “Rap God,” forcing the conversation to morph into one of hope. Last Tuesday, Eminem released his album to a nation of thoroughly confused people that awaited a verdict on how good, bad, or otherwise “Marshall Mathers LP II” would turn out to be.

Registering an opinion on this album is about as hard and almost as pointless as it was trying to prognosticate on how it would turn out beforehand. “Marshall Mathers LP II” is easily the best album Eminem has released in years. Unfortunately, that statement really doesn’t mean all that much.

Opener “Bad Guy” teases the listener into thinking the album is going to be as good, if not better, than the aforementioned “Rap God.” A seven minute track that echoes “Pusha Man” from Chance the Rapper’s excellent “Acid Rap,” “Bad Guy” opens “MMLP2” with some of Eminem’s most impassioned rapping on the whole album.

While it definitely starts the album on a great tone and reminds everyone that Eminem is actually capable of writing good songs, it makes the filler songs unbearable. Having Rick Rubin behind the boards of “MMLP2” was an invaluable asset that makes songs like the Zombies sampling “Rhyme or Reason” enjoyable despite its chorus.

Therein lies Eminem’s bloodiest Achilles’ Heel. The rapping on this album is uniformly excellent, but as soon as he tries to make a sung hook his songs turn into iffy pop-rap with varying levels of collateral damage to the song structure. “Rhyme or Reason” and the Rihanna led “The Monster” don’t suffer that much, but the Skylar Grey helmed anthem “Asshole,” the unbearable “Stronger Than I Was” and the aforementioned abomination “Berserk” take a big dip in quality with their choruses. This rule is not universal, however – when Eminem decides to actually loosen up and have fun with the song structure like with his collaboration with Kendrick Lamar on “Love Game,” he created a hook that is both engaging and enjoyable, regardless of the fact that Kendrick wound up stealing the whole show anyway.

“Marshall Mathers LP II” dropped at an incredibly unique time in hip-hop history. All the men that could have been considered the rap-game champions fell away from their throne due to either low quality artwork (Jay-Z and Lil Wayne) or deciding to move past the petty trivialities of public appeal (Kanye West). Fresh talents such as Drake, Kendrick, Mac Miller and Tyler the Creator have been furiously clawing toward the top, and all the while there’s Eminem who wants to establish his position in the hip-hop history books as one of those men, not a has been whose best albums are far, far behind him. While “Marshall Mathers LP II” is an inconsistent album, it is on the whole above average and contains enough flashes of brilliance to justify Eminem’s claims to greatness.