Curtain Call: The Hits
Nothing / Interscope

is it really time to reflect on the career of Eminem? Certainly that’s among a greatest hits compilation’s primary functions, but is that really what Marshall Mathers III would want?

Because as his album sales increased and his star rose to transcend all of pop culture, Eminem’s music has noticeably gone the opposite route. The mechanical flow that locks into the track so tight he gets lost within it, the practical joke that was Encore, the post-apocalyptic death march productions that sound simultaneously minimalist and grandiose, but nevertheless unfuckingbearable. “Lose Yourself” remains the sole exception, but peep this:
Eminem Songs You Can Either Rap Over “Lose Yourself” Or Rap “Lose Yourself” Over
1. Til’ I Collapse
2. Square Dance
3. Fight Music (D-12)
4. Sing for the Moment
5. How Come (D-12)
6. Go To Sleep (DMX)
7. Don’t Push Me (50 Cent)
8. My Name (Xzibit)
Try it, it’s fun.

So with this schizophrenic compilation Curtain Call: The Hits comes the realization that, for all his creative evolution, Eminem never topped the juvenile brilliance of The Slim Shady LP. That isn’t even a matter of preference: just listen to “Brain Damage” (ugh, not included) where he not only rhymed the unrhymable “orange” but did it 4 times, “Guilty Conscience” where he antagonized his benefactor (“Mr. AK comin' straight outta Compton y'all better make way?), and “As the World Turns” where he couldn't help himself from beating the shit out of a fat chick at the neighborhood swimming pool and throwing her off the highest diving board. Splash!

Contrary to popular belief he only came close on The Marshall Mathers LP, but strangely enough these two albums get the shaft on representation, with only his brilliant-but-borderline-novelty debut single “My Name Is,” “Guilty Conscience,” and the singles from MMLP able to eek out some space from Encore (gasp! 4 songs) and The Eminem Show (3 + “Lose Yourself”). Curious, but not really.

History has shown “Eminem vs. Triumph” wasn't just a ridiculous footnote, it was the turning point. It was the moment when Eminem stopped being in on his own joke, a not-so-fleeting moment where he took himself too seriously and revealed himself as the artist we see today; humorless, charmless, embarrassingly intense. It doesn’t matter how often he (over)compensates by hanging out with the Crank Yankers. It finished what “The Way I Am” started: Slim Shady is dead.

Case in point: the compilation’s requisite new songs: The “Hailie’s Song”/”Mockingbird” retread “When I’m Gone,” club-track (never Em’s strength) “Shake That,” and the inexcusable “Fack,” predictably formulaic and antagonizing for the sake of it, the ghost of Slim Shady spitting unreasonably, to see how dumb we are if we actually like it.

This is the same guy who absolutey ripped “Forgot About Dre” to shreds, outshined Big on “Dead Wrong,” and murdered Jay on his own shit with “Renegade,” (the latter two included on the album’s bonus disc along with “Criminal,” thank God) spitting “Go to war with the Mormons / Take a bath with the Catholics in holy water / No wonder they tried to hold me under longer.” I got chills just typing that. There was a pay-off and he earned it, that slow crescendo of intensity in his voice until it released in the chorus. It's the same reason “Lose Yourself” is brilliant and “Sing for the Moment,” “Fight Music,” “Mosh,” and “White America” aren't. I always got the sense Eminem may have been overextending himself with his music, revealing too much. And it’s true: his greatest hits reveal his misses as well.

Which makes the appearance of the live version of “Stan” featuring Elton John all the more bizarre, given that its inclusion unintentionally calls to light how that performance was the last time Eminem was even remotely controversial. The man whose entire career seemingly thrived on being universally despised suddenly found after that night that everyone liked Eminem (including notable flamboyant homosexuals), that everyone suddenly recognized his genius, and those two middle fingers he threw up at the end of the performance were suddenly kinda cute.

So if you’re wondering why Eminem thinks it’s time to hang it up, doesn’t know where his career is going, why after only six years we’ve got a career-summarizing greatest hits compilation, there’s your answer. But it wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Reviewed by: Barry Schwartz
Reviewed on: 2005-12-13
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