Monday, June 17, 2019

CD Odyssey Disc 1271: Eminem

Happy Monday, gentle reader! Monday is not the greatest day of the work week, but like a lot of things, it’s a lot better with music.

Disc 1271 is… The Slim Shady LP
Artist: Eminem

Year of Release: 1999

What’s up with the Cover? The events of the troubling track “‘97 Bonnie & Clyde” are depicted as Eminem’s alter-ego prepares to toss his girlfriend’s body into the sea. If you find this image troubling, then take a hint from Tipper Gore’s Parental Advisory logo in the upper left corner and avoid the album altogether. Maybe skip the review as well - this stuff is dark. However, if you do you’ll be missing out on some amazing music. Tipper probably misses out on all kinds of good music as a result.

How I Came to Know It: This was a pretty big album back in the day but I wasn’t into rap when it came out. I admired the music but didn’t buy it. Instead, I did a deep dive into Eminem a couple years ago and this was one of the standouts.

How It Stacks Up:  I have two Eminem albums, this one and its follow up “The Marshall Mathers LP”. They are both amazing records and competition is fierce between them. I’ll rank “The Slim Shady LP” at #2.

Ratings: 4 stars but almost 5

Eminem’s first commercial release has a mission, and part of that mission is to shock you. If you can handle that shock, your reward will be one of rap music’s great records.

This record features drug abuse, robbery, violence (sexual and otherwise) and a general miasma of angry misanthropy. “How in the world can that be great art?” the Tipper Gore’s of the world may ask. Well, paintings like Gericault’s “The Raft of the Medusa” or Picasso’s “Guernica” reminds us, not every great piece of art is going to depict water lilies and starry nights. Sometimes art disturbs us. While Eminem may not intend as broad a social commentary as some, his words paint pictures as deftly as any visual artist.

At the centre of it all, Eminem gets to the core of the quintessential angry young man, disenfranchised and ready to lash out at anything. There is a brilliance in how he walks a line between myth and reality, weaving the rough experiences of Marshall Mathers struggles to emerge as a successful rapper with the persona of his alter ego, “Slim Shady”, a leering gargoyle character.  Shady pushes everything that Mr. Mathers can think of three steps too far. Like a Cubist painting, Eminem distorts and amplifies his horrors, so you can see them from all angles at once.

Along the way, Eminem reminisces about Kurt Cobain’s death, tells a story about murdering his girlfriend and then – in case it wasn’t clear – drops two tracks (dis)respectfully titled “Just Don’t Give a Fuck” and “Still Don’t Give a Fuck” in case the first iteration didn’t make the point.

Those who let all of that offense get to them and turn the record off miss out on a rap genius. Eminem has one of the most impressive, innovative, unique and instantly recognizable flows in rap music. His internal rhyme structures are exceptional, and he can rattle off three or four in a row or delay the punchline unexpectedly into the next beat with equal grace.

All those clever rhymes aren’t randomly thrown together either, they are weaved into a narrative that reads like a mini-novel. “My Fault” tells the story of a single nightmarish night trying to deal with the fact that Eminem’s date has eaten a bag of mushrooms. It reads like one of those “single night” teen party movies, except with an undercurrent of possibly lethal overdose. Eminem won’t give you a laugh without also making sure you feel uncomfortable in the process.

 Rock Bottom” has Eminem singing the frustrations of poverty and obscurity. You can feel him seethe through the lyrics showing that he is equally willing to go dark without the humour.

And lest you take anything he says too seriously, Eminem includes “Role Model” to remind you not to behave like him. How much of Eminem is the villainous and disrespectful Slim Shady of the album title, and how much is just a character? “Role Model” reminds you that it doesn’t matter. Eminem is blurring those lines deliberately and if that frustrates you, well then it means you’re paying attention.

Is “the Slim Shady LP” an angry record? Without question. Does it go too far – most likely yes, and that is definitely a big part of Eminem’s intention. My biggest beef with the record is all the overly clever little quips and “whoops!” and other dialogue bits distracting from what are some otherwise pretty killer beats. Even that is part of Eminem’s pattern; excess in all things, even production. I almost got mad about it before I remembered…that’s what he wants.

Best tracks: My Name Is, Brain Damage, Role Model, My Fault, Just Don’t Give a Fuck, Still Don’t Give a Fuck

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