“Don’t try to fix me/I’m broke so I don’t work,” raps Eminem on Evil Twin, the closing track of The Marshall Mathers LP 2.
It’s a long way from the self-loathing and lashing out of a decade prior, a deep-seated fury coursing through indelible tracks like My Name Is, Stan and The Way I Am.
What was once internal anger directed outward now feels like a shrug of acceptance, which is as surprising as it is disappointing.
Few modern musicians were better at sculpting pain into accessible art than Eminem was, although he can still summon the sting of his turbulent upbringing when needed.
Eminem’s new record is a sequel of sorts to The Marshall Mathers LP, the controversial superstar’s career-defining, multi-platinum and Grammy-winning effort from 2000.
The ensuing decade has been a roller coaster for the rapper, not least because he charged into the teeth of the early ’00s culture wars, nearly killed himself with prescription medication, recovered and has enjoyed a second wind as an elder statesman for a new generation, most of which has taken up his mainstream-baiting ways with vigor.
Following Eminem’s taut 2010 full-length Recovery, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 features the Detroit-based MC’s first collaborations with hip-hop godfather Rick Rubin (and, shockingly, Dr. Dre is nowhere in sight), making this, after Kanye West’s searing Yeezus, the second rap blockbuster of 2013 with Rubin’s fingerprints on it.
Over the course of its bloated 75-minute run time, MMLP2 seesaws between the two poles of Eminem’s musical persona: the hardcore, syllable-snapping battle rapper and the hook-savvy, radio hit machine, unafraid of a nakedly catchy melody.
That tension, which would, in theory, provide some forward momentum, instead makes the 17-track record feel leaden and lazy.
The opener, a 7-minute epic titled Bad Guy (which features Denton’s Sarah Jaffe and production work from DFW’s own Symbolyc One), gives way to a series of peaks and valleys.
For every sizzling showcase like the Zombies-spiced Rhyme or Reason, Rap God, Brainless or Love Game, there are muddled misfires like So Much Better, trying (and failing) to take shots at detractors; The Monster, a transparent attempt to recapture the success of Love the Way You Lie and the Billy Squier/Beastie Boys-fueled Berzerk, sticking out like the calculated lead single it is.
Sacrificing attitude for altitude has brought Eminem fame and fortune, but it’s his relentless picking of his own personal scabs that brought him fans. The Marshall Mathers LP 2 can’t decide which Eminem should dominate, and in the end, sadly settles for splitting the difference.