Eminem is not very good at his job anymore, and he’s spent an inordinate amount of time in the last decade trying to convince himself and everybody else that he’s actually better than ever. It’s a big part of his narrative nowadays, and it gets boring fast: The haters are always hating him, and the criticism really does get to him, but he knows deep down that he’s actually really talented and a good person. “Bitch, I wrote ‘Stan’,” he flailingly insists on Revival’s cheese-fueled, Beyoncé-assisted first single “Walk On Water,” after pouring out his deepest insecurities for five minutes. His constant self-arguments—I don’t suck! Or do I?—are as worn and tired at this point as an overstretched rubber band. And what does he choose to augment them with for album number nine? Shitty sex raps, terrible puns, ill-advised samples, and more goddamn soul-searching. Nearly 80 minutes and 19 tracks of it.
It’s not the whole 80 minutes, thankfully: While the misses definitely sink Revival overall, it’s not a completely unmitigated disaster. If you can make it to the end of the album without dying of embarrassment—either for yourself or Eminem—he finds something real on the linked closing tracks, “Castle” and “Arose.” In the former, he writes a letter to his daughter Hailie, the subject of so many Marshall Mathers songs and controversies, basically offering up his own origin story. (“Makes me feel like I don’t belong or something, ooh / I think I might’ve just stumbled on something new,” serves as his spider bite or overdose of gamma radiation.) On “Arose,” he imagines his own near-death after years of drug abuse—a true story, and a flavor of regret he can actually process with some clarity. And there’s yet another song about his ex-wife Kim, though this one’s delivered with the clarity of hindsight: He comes to the realization that he’s also to blame for their awful relationship. (This is a big step for Marshall Mathers, lasher-out extraordinaire.) And “Untouchable” finds some insight into the pain of being black in America, though it partly kills the sentiment with its goofy, Cheech And Chong-sampling chorus.
But Jesus, is it ever a chore to find those moments of clarity in all the literal and metaphorical shit—a popular topic on Revival. It requires wading through the dismal “River,” which incongruously features Ed Sheeran, a guy that Slim Shady would’ve murdered and dismembered before he had a chance to open his mouth. Here, Sheeran provides the requisite cheese for a rap about a love triangle gone wrong and an eventual abortion, handled with all the skill of an after-school special, and also utilizing one of many brain-rattling puns that scatter across Revival like so many rust spots: “Just shit on my last chick / and she has what my ex lacks.” Feces return in the very next song, “Remind Me,” which is bizarrely built on Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ’N’ Roll” and includes the lyric, “Your body is heavy duty like diarrhea.” Gross, sure, but worse yet, not at all funny.
The tired-yet-labored production doesn’t stop there. Nobody told Eminem that building a song around the Boogie Nights riff that Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly delivered—“feel, feel, feel, feel my heat”—was a bad idea, so he uses it as part of a pussy-grabbing celebration of stalking and murder. It’s shocking at this point only because it’s no longer shocking at all, and the lesson here is solely that Eminem should stop trying to offend, because he’s no longer got the chops for it. Elsewhere, nobody told him that building a song around The Cranberries’ “Zombie” was a bad idea, but he does that, too, on “In Your Head,” another slice of self-pity in which he threatens to walk away from the rap game. (Again.) “Framed” is more pointless shock-bait, with lines like, “When murdering females better pay attention to these details or you could be derailed,” and it includes one of those dumb voices it seemed like he’d been wise enough to give up years ago. Eminem doesn’t need fewer haters telling him he’s doing the wrong thing, he needs to pay a professional to give him the side-eye when he gets too excited about an awful idea. (Where’s his old pal Dr. Dre when we need him?)
A lot has been made already of “The Storm,” Eminem’s freestyle about Donald Trump that he delivered during the BET Awards, and he stretches out the sentiment fully (with help from Alicia Keys) on “Like Home.” It’s a blistering blast of rage—and hell, maybe it’ll ignite some young minds—but it’s just not listenable. And that’s the problem with Revival as a whole. There’s a lot of scattershot emotion that ultimately can’t find a proper delivery system. So even when he crawls out of his own hole of woe-is-me and dick jokes long enough to make a point, there’s nothing to hang that emotion on. Revival isn’t even interesting enough to warrant all of the critical beatdowns it’s taken in its short time in the world. Instead, it’s boring and predictable, which are greater threats to the Eminem legacy than anything else.