Eminem's Encore, From the Newly Converted
Written by Erin Norman on Monday the 10th of January 2011
I'll tell you what's futile. Writing a review of an album that came out in 2004 when its 2011. But being a child spawned of the Sex Pistols, Tori Amos and The Smiths I came to Eminem late and drip fed. When I began to give him my attention, I realised Eminem was raps answer to Morrissey, and I'm a sucker for a primal beat so I became a fan pretty quickly. I digest one album at a time; Eminem's Encore won the most recent lottery. I found it so comprehensive that, as a writer who once said I couldn't make music for shit but could listen to it better than anyone else, I had to sit down and write about it. First thing I understood was, this is one album you must listen to in one sitting, preferably with headphones on and in a comfortable position. Settle in with drinks because I don't want you to go anywhere until the end. This is a cinematic album, it will drag you into it, shake you up and spit you out, and I don't care if you like rap or not or if you desire the content for your own life. Do you only watch films about World War II? If you can handle a variety of films you can handle this. Moments that would be disorientating if faced isolated in the middle make perfect sense when seen within their context. Of course the two related skits are obvious examples of cohesion, but musically there are plenty of linear and non-linear link-ups as well.
There is the genius of Eminem, something I go as far to say that he shares with Mozart; to what extent I don't venture to guess. Because Mozart saw an entire composition as one piece, from a birds eye view in an instant, rather than as a series of individually isolated songs and notes, unconnected to each other. This ability clearly isn't too much a labour for Eminem either. When he blinks he sees language, music, ethics, beauty and filth, all exemplified by his own story, and he lays it down in a rap record for us to play as we will. The pleasure is all ours when we allow ourselves to sit back and bask in that snapshot. It's a puzzle to unpick the threads and connect the dots with marvel, while all sorts of puerile, passionate and ethical thoughts march through our heads to a deceptively simple beat. Now that makes it sound like it could only be improved upon if it exuded a nice musky scent, rubbed my neck and fed me bonbons but nevertheless... I loved it the first time I heard it, but the second, third and fourth times I realised it was actually quite special and now I want to evangelise about it with the zeal of the converted.
In the opening track, "Curtains Up - Encore” we hear the crowd cheering him back on stage (Returning from the Eminem Show. In My 1st Single he makes reference to his inability to compete with his previous success.) Then it effortlessly slides into the studio style sounding first song, Evil Deeds. I liked how it went straight for the jugular, no extended bullshit about shaking asses but what we really want from Eminem: wit, honesty and fury. It set the tone for an album that had down and dirty intentions. He describes his childhood bouncing from place to place, singing to his absent father in mock prayer fashion. Then he comments on observers saying of him 'I can't imagine it, that little rich poor white bastard/Needs to take some of that cash out the bank and take a bath in it/Man if I only had half of it.' He responds, 'If you only knew the half of it'.
In the mesmerising Yellow Brick Road's intro there are several quotes sampled in. The first is about saving young individuals before it is too late for them, but the last says "We all have this idea that we should move a little bit from our parents station and each generation should do a little bit better...” After the intro of quotes he tells the story of his younger years, abandoned to grapple with racism and abuse. Those years that set him irreversibly on the path he was to tread on and hence set his own children on in an effort to steer them in a different direction, using the raw materials he had at hand. Bearing in mind that his intentions were to better his parents circumstances (as laid out by the intro quotes) I think he can be satisfied that he did very well, and use this album as proof of that. In Mosh he refers to himself as a fatherless Father. Of course no parent is perfect, and he holds his parenting up to a harsh light in his rap often, but there is no denying that he is a doting father who has fought to keep his daughters as stable, safe and loved as possible and they are constantly referred to in his songs. He is also indisputably wealthier than his parents were, and has been internationally recognised as a person of amazing musical talent. After all, I just compared him to Mozart, which is saying a hell of a lot. I consider Mozart the Original Genius Rock Star, and I don't pass the Mozart nod of genius out frequently. I award him this now. Therefore in both nurturing his young, providing materialistically and furthering humanity's achievement he has succeeded in the universal aim of improving on what came before him.
Eminem can put his success down to two things: His determination to exercise his right to freedom of speech no matter what his meaning or intent in order to pull himself up by his bootstraps and his remarkable talent as a wordsmith. The two characteristics combined are so compelling. I can see why people may find him repulsive because the subject matter he has to work with is not for the faint of heart, but I think he's a hero. A complete asshole at times, no doubt, but that's not what we're talking about here. I would drink with him any night despite this. If you look backwards over humanity all real progress has come from increasing the same basic ingredients (human rights, economic stability, artistic influences, and logic) so as far as I'm concerned he's exhibiting all the right signs of evolution. Right, so, down to the nitty gritty. Have I got your attention yet? Are you willing to put those headphones on and be entertained my way?
"Mosh” has to be one of the most rousing cries to fight for the anti-war cause I've ever heard. I would take up arms under Eminem as my general in the name of peace any day. But seriously, I like his anger, I like his venom towards George W. (Bearing in mind I'm writing this in 2011 and the album was released in 2004. I'm just having fun in my spare time, these days we've got Obama and the troops are still hanging in there. Eminem for President, me as First Lady? Quick! Hide the red button!) His fury in the moment when he says to put an AK47 in George's hands and send him off to war to impress Daddy is tangible, but his responsibility when he asks how we could empower the monster is just as raw. He answers the point that Americans can be patriotic without feeling we must be unquestionably loyal to the President; and that's something that many Americans need to hear. We are taught to respect our President as a matter of reverence to the office that bears our freedoms. But the whole song is about the fact that the respect given can be abused to erode those same freedoms, not only of Americans but of others. He pushes this rap out with a heave and a shaking fist, willing the heavens to break, begging to go head to head with the powers that be and charge into battle as leader of the screwed over millions. And he does it in love of America. He grew up in Missouri where I did and he's only a bit older than me. We were weaned on the same curriculum and in similar circumstances, I speak his language. The pledge of allegiance is at the beginning of that song; we said that at the beginning of each school day. We were taught that it meant something. The social studies classes and talks of the Revolutionary War in elementary school actually fell on to some fertile ground, but that ground was left to grow wild afterwards. Eminem didn't sample the pledge in to the beginning of Mosh to belittle America; he clings to his freedom of speech because he loves it. The one thing he clung to as a child when things were so hard for him was that there was justice in our right to freedom and equality. It's no accident that Like Toy Soldiers precedes Mosh. It seems there's one thing Eminem can't stomach, and that's betrayal of those you depend on and who depend on you, whether you're talking nationally or in matters of the heart.
It then moves straight into disgusting sounds of vomit, when he goes into a blistering tirade against the infamous Kim in the song "Puke”. There are no comforting breaks between songs to make a cup of tea. You can imagine how she slowly heated, burned, then hit the fucking roof when she first heard this song. What a knife to twist. And he twisted it, and she knows exactly why. Not because its his permanent state of mind, but because he felt it bad enough, because they're both mad enough, it's real enough, and the rhyme came and it was irresistible enough, and it simply was. That's how they are where they are. It spins, it loops. In "Rain Man's” first ten lines he reduces etiquette to a comedy of errors, making a counter attack on those who attack him for profanity, on the grounds that he has a sacred right to say what he likes whether he means it or not, and whether other people like to hear it or not. He's almost gracious for drawing a line under offences since we're unable to do the same. Given the mention again of Bush in "Rain Man”, I presume the previous bit about bisexual/lesbian and then homosexual sex was a parody of George W, in anticipation. The Rain Man theme stresses that he can't stop his need to verbalise and bewails his fate as the good guy at the mercy of his tongue. But its so clever, the joke goes so many ways. He demonstrates his inability to stop being offensive by being offensive, all in the name of a noble cause. It leaves you helpless and at his complete disposal. This is why it's a mistake when people say that what Eminem's rap is about is sex, swearing and violence. It's more often about the control and of sex, swearing and violence, which makes it a whole different kettle of fish.
I think he spends so much time proclaiming his right to say what he likes, that he feels obliged to prove it by scraping the bottom of the barrel to toughen us up and drive home his point. That moment is "Ass Like That” which for me is the albums lowest point for its sheer irritation and gross out factor. Once he's proven that his literal and literary cock is bigger than ours he gets back to his true passion, which is rapping about the matters of his heart. Mockingbird is a touching song to his daughters that explains the tender side of his love for Kim, and that segues straight into the climax of the album, Crazy in Love.
If you wondered why Puke was so vile then look no further. Anyone who can love this obsessively is deeply bound to lose all semblance of normality when the object of their love breaks their heart. Eminem & Rhianna's "Love the Way You Lie” is like a songbird compared to the mania that was his raw material called Crazy in Love. I may be forever excluded from my fellow feminists for this, but this is amongst the most romantic songs I've ever heard. Yes I know it involves both parties exchanging blows and we all know that's wrong etc but there is a madness in falling in love, and the naked, endearing need in this song is inspiring. It's got a sweetness to it, even a beguiling touch of a blush, despite mention of dildos. That feeling is one of the great marvels of humanity and he wrote it. Those things come with fire, that's why they are what they are, its why he is what he is. Health and Safety are modern inventions, genius, art and progress do not recognise them. Climax indeed. "Love you More”, a bonus track, continues the description of all consuming love/hate relationship. I defy anyone to get to the end of that song without feeling like they've been sucker punched and they need to struggle for air.
Then it all goes wrong. The shots rain down. Then he's back on stage for his final encore. I had a happy accident, I was listening to the album on Spotify and my default setting on all albums is that they play continuously until I change them. So while listening to the final track "Encore/Curtains Down” which is deceptively light hearted, I was surprised when it ended with Eminem shooting up his cheering audience. But while I was taking in the end of the album, and they were still desperately trying to escape the venue in terror, the album simply began again from "Curtains Up/Encore” and I could hear that the two samples of the screaming/cheering crowds on either end were the same. It went seamlessly in a loop, which was the entire point of the whole album. A beautiful never-ending to a story that could never have gone any other way. His very own Phantom of the Opera. That's what this album is really about, its like the Christian apologists, but it shows us the process of a thorny genius realised. He did that, ticked that box. It was its own exercise, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Even if it is 7 years late...