It will come as no surprise when I say this, but by 2004 Eminem was everywhere. The albums, singles and tours were successful and critically-acclaimed, the awards and TV appearances plenty, posters of him hanged on every teenage bedroom’s wall. Of course not everybody loved him, far from it actually, but in a way that’s what made him so great – both the lovers and the haters were 100% convinced of their stance, never to switch sides. Only strong art can create such strong opinions.
But back to the original point, Em’s fame guaranteed that whatever he released at the time would sell like hotcakes. Hell, his new album could be fart and burp sounds with not much else and the kids would still go nuts over it. And that’s kinda what happened. For the most part, ‘Encore’ is an album that presents its artist’s monumental fall into mediocrity, dullness, and ultimately, embarrassment and self-parody.
The album’s lead single is perhaps the perfect example of how it can all go terribly wrong. ‘Just Lose It’ focuses only on the parody and cartoony elements, forgetting to add the wit and the instantly-memorable hook that made songs like ‘Without Me’ or ‘The Real Slim Shady’ so great. And the damnedest thing is that once you listen to the whole album you realize that ‘Just Lose It’ was not just one wrong step – all FOUR tracks that precede it are equally terrible, grouped in a sequence that truly is one of the most “what the heck” moments I’ve ever encountered in my listening experience. Really, where one does one begin to criticize a song whose chorus goes “You don’t know how sick you make me/You make me fuckin’ sick to my stomach/Every time I think of you, I puke”. It’s all forced, unfunny garbage not worth discussing.
When the album is decent, it either is not memorable enough (‘Spend Some Time’, ‘Crazy in Love’, ‘Never Enough’), deals with previously-discussed themes (‘Evil Deeds’) or barely gets by to the absurdity factor (‘Ass Like That’). Only three songs are exceptions and thus become highlights. ‘Like Toy Soldiers’ for one is a haunting account of the ever-present feuds in the hip-hop world, something Eminem got sucked into without ever really wanting to be part of. It’s the song that proves he can still find new subjects to write convincingly about; and when Em means it, he’s at his best. The mournful piano line and marching drums couldn’t have fit better. Perhaps some will find the lyrics to ‘Mosh’ too naive (march and then do what exactly?), but the frightening atmosphere takes the song to a whole other level, making the action of moshing sound more like the coming of apocalypse. And finally, ‘Mockingbird’ is a true follow-up to the underrated ‘Hailie’s Song’, this time featuring more convincing actual singing from Marshall and even more touching lyrics. It may be a softie, but again, can’t deny Eminem when his heart is in it.
But I think it’s safe to say that overall, his heart was not in this album. Later when Marshall got clean he would blame his drug addiction as the reason for ‘Encore’ being so uninspired; but in all honesty, the albums that followed were not much better either. My best guess is that by 2004 Eminem as an artist just had few things left to say. When he did try to approach new subject matters or to experiment with the beats, it worked out fine. But for most of the time, he decided to follow the formulas he established (and perfected) before, thus pigeonholing himself and releasing an album that’s just not really worth listening to.
Categories: Album Reviews