On his ninth LP, Revival, Eminem returns with a sense of nostalgic solipsism that attempts to break new ground while still being content with its legacy. The brightest spots on Revival come courtesy of the guest vocalists. Beyoncé and Skylar Grey give emotional performances on “Walk on Water” and “Tragic Endings,” respectfully; their soft fluttery tones provide the perfect contrast to Eminem’s gruff voice. Ed Sheeran provides his pop edge to “River,” the clear smash hit of the album, and Alicia Keys provides anthemic vocals on “Like Home,” a more melancholic interpretation of American nationalism and exceptionalism.
The issue, however, with Revival is the length. At 77 minutes and 19 tracks, Revival is tough to sit through. There are beautiful emotional moments of confession that are hidden under a pile of ill-advised Migos flow renditions (“Chloraseptic”) and songs that don’t really fit the narrative of the album (“Framed”). Regardless, what makes Revival a good album is the growth displayed here. Eminem is more socially aware than ever on tracks like “Untouchable” and “Like Home.” Also, on the final two tracks, “Castle” and “Arose,” Eminem raps about his shortcomings as a father to his then-unborn child. Then, the narrative shifts to him rapping from a hospital bed after a methadone overdose. It’s heavy stuff, but Eminem’s veracity and control provide for a truly compelling listen.
There are triple-X rated tracks that are equal parts hilarious and catchy, “Heat” and “Remind Me,” respectively. Eminem’s flow is as impeccable as ever and his lyricism is just as great, just a bit blunter than it was before. Eminem does play around with his tone a lot on the album, and it’s something he should consider doing more often. His default scream-rap style quickly becomes monotonous on a nearly 80-minute long album. People are going to compare Revival to 4:44 given the two rappers’ status and age, but Revival simply cannot compete where it does not compare. Eminem introduced the Revival era with a viral BET cypher that eviscerated Trump, but when Eminem raps this line on “Framed,” “just escaped from the state pen for raping eight women who hate men,” it becomes very difficult to believe the new “woke” Eminem.
In many ways, Revival isn’t a revival at all, Eminem is still as convoluted, complicated, evasive, and vulnerable as ever before, he’s just older now. That being said, Eminem sounds more motivated and determined than he has been in years even if the album isn’t particularly great. Even with its triumphs, Revival is exhausting and messy, Eminem sounds confused and that’s okay because no one ever needs to have it all figured out. Revival would have benefited from either being split into two albums or undergoing a drastic slimming of the track list. The concept, skill, and determination are all there, it’s just hidden under a mountain of lard and lazy dad jokes.
All in all, Revival is no masterpiece, but it’s not the worst that rap music has to offer. Here’s to hoping that we get a renewal to follow this so-called “revival.”