When My Name Is was first released it would be difficult to believe that it was the debut single of someone who would prove to be one of the most controversial and successful pop icons of our time. For this reviewer it was the novelty factor of the track that sent me out to buy the Slim Shady LP, and frankly it seemed like the phase would pass. Six years later Marshall Mathers is releasing his fourth major studio album.
From the first bar of Evil Deeds it’s clear that Encore is not going to disappoint, the ambiguity that has followed Eminem‘s career continues in Encore’s first lines “Father please forgive me for I know not what I do”. Surely it couldn’t be a plea to God for saviour, well no, the track evolves into an attack on an absent father and the fact Eminem turned into Satan’s spawn. Okay, so the lyrical content is hardly anything new but as an album opener it does the job more than competently.
Never Enough seems to be nothing more than a (rather good) showcase for an early appearance from 50 Cent on the album with our good old friend Nate Dogg on chorus duties. It’s an exercise in production technique with a nice bashy bass line, but at just under three minutes long it certainly isn’t meant to leave a lasting impression.
The album truly begins with Yellow Brick Road, a spoken introduction with Eminem humming along before taking the story back to “’89 when I was a boy on the eastside of Detroit”. After Mosh the song that you almost think depended on George Bush being re-elected, we get a semblance of the comedy that’s part of Eminem’s make-up through Puke. It’s an attack on his ex-wife Kim, but unlike the frankly disturbing track Kim on the Marshall Mathers LP the anger is downplayed by the clapped beat and sheer catchiness of it all.
While Just Lose It is the typical first release from any of his albums, My 1st Single pokes fun at the very fact that all Eminem’s first singles follow the same radio-friendly pattern with the result being a track that just isn’t suitable for the airwaves. Rain Man is probably the most controversial track on the album simply because of the lyrics alluding to Christopher Reeve, the chorus “I ain’t got no legs or no brain” is a bit wrong.
But when the critics launch their inevitable attack I doubt very much they’ll bat an eyelid to the fact that Good Charlotte made a song with the words “who is gonna save you when your superman can’t walk?”. There is more comic relief through Big Weenie and particularly Ass Like That. The former just has funny lyrics while the latter is a cynical look at the sexual imagery that young female pop-stars evoke and the shock that it causes when it has the desired effect on men. There’s really only one person who could get away with it.
The two most emotive songs on the album run next two each other, the first being Spend Some Time with Eminem’s verse being especially powerful. His defences are down as he goes into the details of his and Kim’s relationship resulting in the charges pressed against him for firearm possession. The haunting and somewhat hypnotic chorus shows exactly why Eminem is held at the forefront of the rap game.
As the album draws to a close you don’t really want it to stop, which is the sign of brilliance. Maybe I’m just far too biased but Encore is a brilliant album, probably Eminem’s best work yet as he sets the bar for his competitors higher and higher. Mr Mathers has well and truly taken the opportunity to become the king of hip-hop with the help of Dr Dre after Jay-Z stepped back from the game. Own this album.