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CD Reviews:
Eminem becomes one with Slim Shady on new album

@graffonmusic, Facebook.com/Gary Graff on Music

Posted: Saturday, November 2, 2013

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"I'm comin' for closure" Eminem declares at the start of his eighth album, but on "The Marshall Mathers LP 2" he opens plenty of fresh wounds and provocative new insights into his psyche.

Dark? Sure. Disturbing? At times. Characteristic? You betcha. And above and beyond that, this pseudo sequel to his 10-times platinum, Grammy Award-winning 2000 sophomore album offers some of the best work he's done, a wickedly caustic, wry, vicious and occasionally humorous turn on the Slim Shady alter ego -- or, as he puts it here, "Evil Twin" -- that the Detroit rapper used to establish his musical dominance 14 years ago. After the somber self-examination of 2009's "Relapse" and 2010's "Recovery," it marks the return of an Eminem who takes no prisoners but is, at 41, also keenly aware of his own foibles and failings and uses those as fodder for material that's both emotionally meaty and entertaining.

The 80-minute set's 15 songs (plus one short aural skit) are packed with eyebrow-raising revelations and commentaries in nearly every turn of phrase, plenty of which are explicitly for shock value -- including some that have already offended the homosexual community and a rugged Columbine reference in the chest-thumping "Rap God"-- but others that add dimension to the combative co-existence of Slim Shady, Eminem and Marshall Mathers. After all, who expected after years of harsh vitriol a sympathetic song ("Headlights") about Eminem's mother, Debbie Mathers? One of several written by fellow Detroiter and frequent Eminem collaborator Luis Resto and bolstered by a melodic hook sung by fun.'s Nate Ruess, Eminem professes regret, gratitude and love, telling her "you're still beautiful to me because you're my mom."

His missing father, however, doesn't fare as well; "Headlights" is one of several tracks on which the rapper takes him to task -- sometimes with murderous intent -- for abandoning the family when he was young. But in continuing to mine his past without any pretense of romance, Eminem does come to the conclusion in "Legacy" that "I think the fact I'm differently wired is awesome."

And the teen pop world will certainly be relieved to hear that he's "all out of whack/all out of Backstreet Boys to call out and attack."

"Mathers 2" is also one of Eminem's most intriguing albums musically. "Rhyme or Reason" is built on the Zombies' 1967 hit "Time of the Season" and sports a wicked imitation of "Star Wars' " Yoda. The frenetic first single, "Berzerk," pairs Eminem with old school rap producer Rick Rubin and samples songs by the Beastie Boys ("The New Style," "(You've Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)"), Billy Squier ("The Stroke") and the Neville Brothers, while "Love Game" samples Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders' "The Game of Love" from 1965 and "So Far..." finds Eminem rocking over Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good."

Rihanna, meanwhile, reprises her "Love the Way You Lie" role on the Bruno Mars-aping hook for "The Monster," while Kendrick Lamar parries rhymes with Eminem on "Love Game" and Skyler Grey plays a kind of one-woman Greek chorus on the celebratory "A**hole."

Much of "Mathers 2" -- particularly the bookends "Bad Guy" and "Evil Twin" -- also finds Eminem exploring the duality of he and Slim Shady, and his use of the latter as a mouthpiece for his more controversial statements. By the end of the album, however, he determines that he's "still Shady inside" and that "we are the same," and the one voice he speaks with here seems even more powerful than the two combined.

Eminem's "The Marshall Mathers LP 2" will be released Tuesday, Nov. 5. The album is streaming on iTunes until then. Eminem performs on "Saturday Night Live" at 11:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, on NBC (WDIV, Channel 4 in Detroit).

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