Album: Eminem

Encore, SHADY/INTERSCOPE
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The Independent Culture

Usually, an encore is just more of the same; but in Eminem's case, Encore represents a substantial move in an entirely new direction, dispelling the treading-water vibe of the patchy The Eminem Show.

Usually, an encore is just more of the same; but in Eminem's case, Encore represents a substantial move in an entirely new direction, dispelling the treading-water vibe of the patchy The Eminem Show.

Not the least of the changes is the experience of hearing the rapper exercising restraint in his verbal razoring of rivals, and offering apologies for any racial or sexual slurs he may have voiced in anger in the past, particularly during his youthful break-up with his wife. Yes, the same Kim he was murdering on The Slim Shady LP is here tenderly celebrated, in "Crazy in Love", as a beloved but incompatible muse; and in "Mockingbird", the now-mandatory track for his daughter, Eminem can be found stressing how her mommy deserves their full support during her troubled times. What's happened?

Marshall Mathers has simply grown up. Sure, there are still plenty of adolescent pranks among these 20 tracks - notably the gender preference-querying single "Just Lose It", the up-chuck effects on "Puke", and his celebration in "My 1st Single" of how he scuppered the label's expectation of a catchy radio hit by the generous application of scatology. The most interesting of these childish moments is perhaps "Big Weenie", which deals with jealousy in appropriately playground terms.

It is, in effect, an acknowledgement that hip hop's dissing is an infantile form of animosity, barely worth dignifying with adult discourse - a theme covered in more thoughtful manner in "Like Toy Soldiers", where one of his trademark cute-kiddie novelty hooks is used to evoke a sombre, regretful tone as he ponders the insanity of hip-hop rivalries, and how slanging matches can escalate to a fatal level. This maturity also brings a focused fury to "Mosh", his indictment of the Iraq crusade, in which he advises the President that a better way of "impressing daddy" might be to strap on an AK47 and join in the fight himself.

Once again, Eminem's own family situation furnishes much of his material. Besides the references to his marriage, there's "Evil Deeds",partly an apology for being "my mother's evil seed", partly a tear-jerking account of youthful rejection, partly a complaint about how his attempts to build a relationship with his daughter are jeopardised by his celebrity. Best of all is "Yellow Brick Road", a return to his formative years as a hip-hop fan, listening to old-skool lions such as "that Big Daddy Kane shit, with compound syllables sound combined", and the Afrocentric rap crew X-Clan. Rarely has hip hop's inter-racial appeal been so warmly evoked; it's doubtful Eminem could have managed such generous retrospection earlier in his career. He's no angel; but with Encore, he shows he's at least on the side of the angels.

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