eminem’s dying. I can’t think of any other possible explanation.

I mean, how else do you justify Encore? It’s an end-to-end mea culpa, full of clarifications, rectifications and excuses, the revisionist history of a man who knows he doesn't have much time left, just enough to rehash, who understands retreat is his only way out.

Recipients of Em’s amends include gays, blacks (sneakily—more on that later), Christopher Reeve, objects of former beefs, his mom Debbie and even kinda sorta Kim.

For the sake of comparison, here’s the full list of foes he murders on wax this time around: Michael Jackson, Ja Rule, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

Of course, Encore could just be the knell of another kind of death, an artistic stake in the heart of Slim Shady the character, the self-made myth, the pomo superhero. There’s a pernicious and very palpable undercurrent of interpretation on this record that insists it’s a willful botch job, and it’s true the idea of Marshall Mathers so gorily slaying his alter egos holds a kind of lurid appeal, not to mention a strangely satisfying logic, seeing as how Em has never shied away from the uglier aspects of his personality in the past.

But then again, what would purposeful self-sabotage prove except that his listeners are all just force-fed lunkheads? My own pet theory is that Em had another, better album in the can, but decided to let this one leak after last Tuesday’s returns showed just how hard it is to shake most people’s faith in the infallibility of their morally suspect icons.

Granted, conspiracies can keep us gabbing ‘til Kim comes home, so let’s examine the empirical evidence instead for why Encore’s such a bore.

We’ll start with a basic statement of fact: ever since his record sales helped push self-obsession into self-mythology, Eminem has cultivated the kind of meta-celebrity no previous pop idol has ever approached.

See, for most suburban-ensconced fans of hip-hop, the music’s a form of escapism rather than a reflection of individual reality. Yet, that escape just takes you to another kind of reality—that’s still shared by a substantial number of people. From the Marshall Mathers LP onward, however, no one can relate to Em but Em—the escape isn’t to the illicit thrills of the hood or the iced-out rewards of wealth, but to the space between Em’s own two ears.

Only now his beefs have become so infinitesimal that he’s started to unconsciously parody our LiveJournal culture, a minor event or misunderstanding generating reams of dialogue, running commentary and painstaking minutiae. In short, he’s no more compelling than one of those non-famous drama queens in your life you already find insufferable, just another loser who blows up non-events, and it’s transformed the long-running Eminem Show into the most myopic, hand-wringing, self-reflexive stuck-in-the-mud soap opera of our time.

Unless, of course, you can’t wait to hear every last bone left from the Benzino beef picked clean on “Yellow Brick Road”. Or perhaps you don’t mind that Em ruins maybe the best musical moment on the record, the Martika interpolation of “Like Toy Soldiers”, just so he can recapitulate ad nauseum the details of his pitiful n-word controversy (and somehow indirectly blame Afrocentrism for his youthful idiocy). “Ass Like That”, Em’s “response” to Triumph, fares better, and actually makes a pretty salient point about Hollywood’s fetishization of barely legal starlets, but then you realize that it’s AN ANSWER RECORD TO AN AWARDS SHOW BEEF WITH A HAND PUPPET and suddenly you’re not even able to make eye contact with the album cover anymore.

If this really is the penultimate record for the Slim Shady persona, it’s probably because Em’s run out of places to take it. Encore dutifully deploys the obligatory Haley ode (“Mockingbird”), the ham-fisted stadium-rock rip (Heart this time for “Crazy in Love”, which is ten times worse and less lyrically memorable than “Sing For the Moment”), and the filler posse cuts with the abysmal D12 (“Spend Some Time” and “One Shot 2 Shot”). Add to that Em’s brand new tendency to bite himself (“Evil Deeds”, “Just Lose It” and “Mosh”), and you’ve actually got a pretty airtight case for playing the career suicide card.

Need more proof? How about the fact that Em even undercuts the few moments of true wit with literal 4th grade toilet humor? “Rain Man”, “Ass Like That” and “My First Single” all flash some of Eminem’s once-patented lyrical venom (the latter even boasts a hot beat for once), but of course, as if on cue, we also have to contend with “weenie”, “pee-pee” and a sound effect of Em on the shitter. Seriously, someone needs to diversify their social circle beyond Haley Jade and her playdates.

Lest you think this invective just implies the overheated betrayal of a sainted rockist prop, I must confess I’m much more personally than critically crestfallen about Em’s demise. The Slim Shady LP was the ONLY jam we jocked on a Spring Break jaunt to Myrtle Beach back in ‘00, while MMLP brilliantly soundtracked my white-boy pain for a summer spent in the employ of a local movie megaplex (with “Kim” full of vicarious connotations for a certain nameless ex).

This isn’t a goose egg I relish giving. I just hope Encore doesn’t sell five million—otherwise Em might make the mistake of thinking he has a mandate for more of the same.

Reviewed by: Josh Love
Reviewed on: 2004-11-12
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