The original Marshall Mathers LP is easily my favourite Eminem release, and one of my favourite albums of the early 21st century. Naming his eighth studio album after his third and most critically acclaimed one may seem a bold move but ‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2’ is a solid continuation of his best release, 13 years on. It also marks a return to form and a revival of the character and persona that initially made him one of the greatest artists of his time. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that the album is also probably Eminem’s best release since ‘The Eminem Show’ back in 2002, although the releases in between didn’t offer much competition.
‘Bad Guy’ kicks off the album in fine fashion and as a listener you instantly get the sense that the Eminem of old is back, and he’s rarely sounded more confident or focused. The seven minute track begins relatively relaxed and with each verse takes it up a notch, adding context and wit in spades. Mathers discusses his own intimacy and relationship issues before taking a turn for the explicit at the halfway point, focusing on murder and kidnap thereafter, capping it off with numerous allusions and an expansion to ‘Stan’. It’s trademark Eminem genius, utilising clever wordplay and a venomously rapid delivery, meaning that any initial doubts or concerns about direction are quashed at the offset by a song that sets the tone for the 15 tracks that follow. It’s a serious yet playful listen, and throughout ‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2’ there’s a solid mix of the more jesting Eminem and his spiteful and serious alter ego. Tracks like ‘Asshole’ are a dark insight into his perverse mind, whilst third track ‘Rhyme Or Reason’ is a more light hearted take on his well documented parental issues, featuring cameos from Yoda and sampling The Zombies. The three verses it contains display three different personas and three different reasons as to why Eminem is still one of the genres most diverse and imaginative lyricists. Lead single ‘Survival’ plays out over punchy guitars and drums whilst Eminem sprays off about his own intentions and position, effectively brushing aside every other mainstream rapper. Tracks like these where Mathers really hits his stride are often stunning and there’s a few of them on the album. When he reaches this momentum there isn’t an artist capably of competing. Kendrick Lamar comes close on ‘Love Game’, where both rappers are at their peak, clashing to make one of the years best hip hop tracks. It’s a standard I think Eminem’s been hitting less and less over the years but the aforementioned track and the first half of ‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2’ is some of his best material to date. Eighth track ‘Berzerk’ features a pounding chorus that makes good use of The Beastie Boys samples it contains and is one of the many tracks where Mathers is given free reign over a beat and completely owns it. Following track ‘Rap God’ is a direct contrast in terms of production, being relatively minimal in comparison, but gives him free reign to rap some of his most blistering material to date in terms of pace, finishing with the line ‘Why be a king when you can be a God? ‘ It’s a fair question considering the form he’s maintained up to this point.
The second half of ‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2’ is weaker, steering away from the more dynamic material in favour of a few radio friendly tracks in ‘So Far’ and ‘The Monster’. These tracks are by no means bad but the contribution by Rihanna, along with the Jason Mraz sounding male vocals and looping guitar of the latter carry a vibe that is more pop than hip-hop. ‘Brainless’ is also disappointingly forgettable, sounding like a ‘Recovery’ B-side. Redeeming tracks ‘Stronger Than I Was’ and ‘Headlights’ are touching songs, the latter of which features Nate Reuss of Fun and is an open letter to Mathers’ mother in which he reflects on their lives together and his own past regrets. It’s an incredibly vulnerable side to Mathers that had yet to feature, and it makes for a rousing and surprisingly passionate song which Reuss suits perfectly, unlike the other guest contributors. Closer ‘Evil Twin’ is one of the best tracks, showcasing Eminem at his controversial best, using razor quick wit and homophobic / misogynistic slurs to characterise his darker side. Lines like ‘You done called every woman a slut but you’re still forgetting Sarah Marshall‘ is jokingly playful whilst ‘Hooray, I’m off the hook like Casey Anthony’ is likely to cause a stir. However, it’s a well known fact that Eminem is at his best when generally pissing people off. He lists and abuses celebrities, social figures and other rappers on his triumphant closer, and it serves as a tribute just as much as it does a statement of intent or challenge. If there’s one thing that definitely hasn’t changed with age it’s Mathers’ ability to not give a fuck about what people think of him or his music.
For the most part, ‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2′ is Eminem back to his God-like best, and occasionally at his pop-cliche worst. There’s a clear input from the artist who penned his first few albums, with a schizophrenic delivery that remains funny and thought provoking throughout, whilst also displaying elements of a more mature and emotional musician. Age has treated both Mathers’ darker and lighter sides well and the album is definitely progression over regression, making for an entertaining yet still somewhat harrowing release.
Rating – 8/10
Listen to: ‘Bad Guy’ / ‘Rhyme Or Reason’ / ‘Evil Twin’