The Marshall Mathers LP
The Music Box's #5 album for 2000
First Appeared at The Music Box, June 2001, Volume 8, #6
Written by John Metzger
What is rock 'n‘ roll without controversy? And in these days of mega-corporations, controversy translates into publicity which in turn yields huge sales — especially from those like Eminem who so rile the cage of middle America that every man, woman, and child has formed an opinion about him. For the most part, this means the elders in our society have condemned the rapper — decrying his songs as a worthless stream of hateful epithets — without so much as hearing a single note of his music. Demonstrations have been held to protest both Eminem's songs as well as the organizations smart enough to heap praise upon his work as an artist. The record labels, meanwhile, are laughing all the way to the bank — no thanks to the free publicity.
Ordinarily, I might not be so inclined to jump headfirst into the fray. Call me a cynic, but although these things tend not to be quite as evil as originally made out to be, they also prove to be more hype than talent. However, after hearing Eminem's latest release The Marshall Mathers LP, I have to say that for once this is not the case.
Granted, Eminem can be brutally blunt in his use of language, violence, and sexuality. But for those Baby Boomers most up in arms, need I remind you that your own hero Jim Morrison once proudly divulged an ode to his genitalia, calmly recounted the murder of a hitchhiker, and even asked his wife if she would die for him (all of which can be found within the friendly confines of his An American Prayer album)? Further, on one of Morrison's earliest shock-rock anthems (the Oedipal update The End), he proclaimed that he wanted to kill his father and fuck his mother. Hell, even peace-loving, ganja-stoked Willie Nelson sang about strangling his lover to death on I Just Can't Let You Say Goodbye, and this year's Grammy Award for album of the year was given to a band named after a dildo. So for those bent out of shape over Eminem, take a step back and put things in perspective: There are hundreds, if not thousands, of rock, country, folk, and blues songs — many of which are widely heralded and commonly accepted as classics — that speak of murderous rage and twisted sex.
As for the gay and lesbian groups and the so-called liberals trying to denounce Eminem, protest his songs, and censor his music — have you actually heard it? If his lyrics are taken out of context, one might be inclined to comprehend these organizations' beef with the boy wonder. But uprooting a line or two from many songs, books, movies, television shows, or plays can lead to the same dangerous outrage and confusion. It's the teen bands á la N'Sync, New Kids on the Block, and Britney Spears that have reason to fear for it's there that Eminem directs a part of his rage — not at those living an alternative lifestyle as the pious protestors would have you believe.
It's true that Eminem's songs do veer into horrific and violent territory, and some of his rage and anger is most definitely leveled at his wife and parents. In many ways, however, the young man is simply letting off a bit of testosterone-driven steam by dispensing his own brand of primal scream psychotherapy. Does he really believe that slicing someone's throat is the answer? I seriously doubt it.
So, now that we have covered everything that The Marshall Mathers LP isn't, let's talk about what it is. First and foremost, Eminem has created a chilling reflection of American society. Instead of spewing the hate that he is so often criticized of doing, Eminem offers a cautionary tale that speaks to our civilization's growing depravity. Ironically, it's his teenage fans who understand this, and their all-knowing parents that miss the point. His songs are laced with icons of popular culture — the buzz-cut that slices through Kill You recalls Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and famed wife-beater Ike Turner is referenced in The Way I Am as is the gun-toting faux-heroism of Arnold Schwarzenegger — which serve to link past and present together in a gruesome dance of death.
These songs simultaneously add a humorous twist, while driving home the true point — America has a seriously seedy underbelly full of hatred and violence that has begun to bleed into middle America. And it's only going to get worse if those residing there continue to sweep the exposed symptoms under the proverbial carpet. As Eminem sings on Who Knew and The Way I Am, the real issue plaguing suburbanites — and the root cause of the recent rash of school shootings — is the plethora of available guns, the adults who confusingly deem Schwarzenegger (over arbitrarily unacceptable others) a role model for children, and the utter lack of parenting due to the spendthrift necessity of the two-income family.
In addition, The Marshall Mathers LP is a deeply personal one for Eminem — hence the title, which echoes his full name. Here, he sheds his alter-ego Slim Shady to delve deeper into his psyche. He trashes his mother, his father, the fans who might take his lyrics too literally, and his label's lack of support (obviously before they realized the gold mine they could establish by inciting the right swarms of protestors). In essence, it's a statement about the public's reaction to his music and his songs, and it is his as well as his family and acquaintances' reaction to his success.
It's harsh. It's real. At times it's downright gruesome. But that's society as we know it — like it or not. In The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem has created a tremendously insightful release, full of intelligent and witty lyrics that reflect the chaos that has become American life. It's a violent album that speaks to violent times. You can wrongly blame Eminem and call him a criminal. Or you can heed his warning and effect true change before we all plunge over the edge by taking road rage to a new extreme. The choice is yours. But the fact remains: Eminem is simply making art, albeit with a glaringly brutal realism. ½
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box