*Originally written in 2004
Progressing from Guns’N’Roses as `The World’s Most Dangerous Band’, Eminem burst into middle class homes across the world as `The World’s Most Dangerous Musician’. His first album was vulgar, crass, offensive, full of foul language and obscene lyrics, it covered taboo subjects, and was full of violent imagery involving fights, drugs, and guns. Naturally it sold millions and terrified parents and politicians everywhere. The critics failed to see the underlying reasons for the success; it was clever, full of energy and invention, and packed with great music. The Blond rapper from Detroit had a lot to live up to for his second album, not that he cared, and with The Marshall Mathers LP he created a monster, surpassing his first in every way- it is shocking in its violence, hilarious in its unashamed attack on celebrity, musically intense and original, and is easily one of the albums of the decade.
`PSA 2000′ opens the album in similar style to the Slim Shady LP. It sets the tone for the rest of the album with Eminem’s trademark humour and attitude coming through. For those who don’t know it is a spoken word announcement proclaiming how he doesn’t care if you hate his album
`Kill You’ has an ominous tone throughout with it’s dark, yet funky bass and screamed vocals. It covers a multitude of topics deriding those who criticize him, especially those who see him as a violent influence to their kids. Naturally he responds by saying he will kill them. Lyrically it is much angrier than anything in the first album- the dark side of fame has struck him and he raps about the hypocrisy of radio stations, TV shows etc whose ratings are bad so they invite him on expecting controversy. This is a strong first song which sets the darker tone of the album, with only subtle hints at humour 6 foot underneath.
`Stan’ needs no explaining as it was one of the biggest hits of the decade. On first listen it was a revelation- a brilliantly clever story, flawlessly written lyrics and music, it’s haunting chorus which blends seamlessly into each verse. The story of a disgruntled and psychotic fan going too far again shows the down side of fame, how becoming an idol brings shadowy responsibilities that you either don’t want or release you had until it was too late. Unfortunately as it became such a big hit thanks to certain big Radio stations with 1 in the title who played it roughly 48 times a day it lacks the impact it once had. Of course these radio stations played a severely censored version and on top of this Dido inexplicably became popular. Her song which was sampled in Stan is bland and poor when heard on its own, but as part of Stan it works effectively. Now that her song has been played to death it unfortunately gives a second knife in the back of Eminem’s epic.
`Paul’ is another funny spoken insert, featuring someone’s reaction to hearing the album. At only a few seconds long it is throwaway material but still great fun and the album doesn’t sound whole if who skip it.
`Who Knew’ is a more juvenile version of Kill You, mixing funny lyrics and ideas with satirical and harsh ones. Again he explains his hatred of the hypocrisy of American parents, media, and politicians who have blamed him for everything to murder, suicide, and the decline of the American youth. He explains his side in a clever way, replacing the elegance of rhetoric with his own unique blend of madness. Musically it is fairly simple, with a slight bass beat in the background and some synth style strings which are reminiscent of, ironically, Psycho.
`Steve Berman’ continues the spoken interludes and features a record company producer/suit who hates the album. As always it is done in a jaunty style with some funny background music as Eminem sets himself up as a `me against the world’ figure.
`The Way I Am’ is as close to soul baring and honesty as we get on the album, another angry attack on fame, those who hate him and those who love him a little too much. He spits out the words with venom and typically doesn’t hold back. Musically it is as melodic as he gets, with piano and bass mixing together and some church bells in the choruses which add a dark tint.
`The Real Slim Shady’ was the first big hit off the album, similar to what My Name Is in commercial sensibility and melodic and lyrical content. A circus like loop repeats throughout, the chorus is a huge sing along favourite, and the verses are a hilarious destruction of celebrity. He speaks obviously of the split personality which people see in him, and of the thousands of imitators who started to appear, and his anger over being mentioned by other vacuous types now because he’s famous.
`Remember Me’ features various guest rappers, mostly rapping about themselves and their own experiences. This is more typical rap than Eminem’s own work on the album, features great lyrics but fairly bland stoner noise. Eminem’s verse is the best of the lot and raises the song by virtue of his delivery. There is more name dropping, more screaming, and more goodness.
`I’m Back’ sounds quite commercial with its memorable lead line and catchy chorus. Again the target is fame and the hounds which follow whoever is the flavour of the month. Again he dismisses all the nonsense, and injects plenty of humour into the lyrics with various imaginings and one-liners.
`Marshall Mathers’ stands out with Kim and Stan as a classic- musically and lyrically it wreaks of brilliance and is swamped with emotion. The confessional lyrics speak of further pitfalls of success- how family members he never knew now come to see him. He covers, Axl Rose style, many objects of his rage from boy/girl groups, useless celebrities and whoever else stupidly falls under his radar. Of course it is all tongue in cheek, but you can taste the annoyance from his relationships with his mother and wife and accusations of selling out now that he is `a big star’.
`Ken Kaniff’ is the final spoken word piece, and the best/worst depending on which way your wind blows. It involves a sexual encounter between 2 characters which ends badly when one mentions Eminem. Juvenile and funny the first time, but not integral to the album.
`Drug Ballad’ has a funky bass line helped along by some female vocals throughout. Eminem speaks of his love of drugs and booze which has become an addiction. He speaks of various experiences as well as what will happen/is happening if he doesn’t stop. The chorus is as catchy as the singles on the album, the lyrics are clever although will be disagreeable to most.
`Amityville’ isn’t one of the best songs on the album. Lyrically it is tongue in cheek, but this time it sounds more like it is trying to offend just for the sake of it. Rather than targeting something genuine and slicing it apart, Bizarre and Eminem find everything taboo and recite like a love of exploitation. Musically it isn’t very memorable, although the ending has some nice additions.
`Bitch Please II’ gets back on the musical tracks with some nice background sounds and catchy melodies. The guests (Dre, Snoop) are more effective this time, the lyrics are more direct with each member adding their own flavour. Silly in parts covering the pride of gangsta stories but with all the humourous content you can’t possibly take the content seriously. As with the rest of the album though, the style and music must be seriously respected.
`Kim’ is the best track on the album, absolutely brutal in content and delivery, heavy metal in style in attitude, emotion, pain, and anger dropping from every word. Every word is shrieked in a demented way, shivers will fly up and down your spine, the chorus is catchy, the guitars and piano are haunting, and the words are utterly horrific. Basically he imagines taking his wife out of the city and murdering her after she cheated on him, the lyrics delivered with frightening authenticity. There is no humour in stark contrast to the rest of the album, it is basically 6 minutes of harrowing rage ending with the sounds of a body being dragged away. Within a few seconds you will forget that you are listening to a song; one of the best songs of the decade.
`Under The Influence’ features D12 rapping along to one of the most memorable melodies on the album, and an extremely infectious chorus. The lyrics are on the `lighter’ side, full of vulgarity and humour and as with the rest of the album pretty offensive if you don’t realize the tongue in cheek nature.
`Criminal’ is another song with South Park-esque humour (and references). Eminem raps about the criminal life that certain areas of society believes he is part of. Murder, bank robberies, kidnapping etc are all flown through with jolly glee, but the message is all about freedom of speech versus conservatism and red faced commentators who have never actually listened to the music.
Eminem’s second album was a huge chart success as well as being a critical favourite. On the flip side the inevitable controversy was huge with celebrities, parents, politicians, fellow rappers, women and gay rights’ groups all ganging together in disgust. There is plenty here to offend, but whether or not it should not be listened to is a futile question given that there is so much to enjoy. It is undoubtedly one of the most important and best albums of the decade bringing hard edged rap into the mainstream, giving a well deserved slap in the face to watered-down music of all genres, and a wake up call to all artists to raise their game or get left behind. Hypnotically weaving its way through the various part’s of Eminem’s psyche it is best to simply relax and enjoy. If you are easily offended you won’t listen and probably won’t be reading this; for those who are not will be treated to an album full of force and aggression, but with a lot of heart, humour, wit, and skill too.