EMINEM The Marshall Mathers LP (Aftermath/Interscope)
This is a difficult album to review, not because it isn't great - following Public Enemy in the 80s and Wu-Tang Clan in the 90s, this decade has found its rap high watermark remarkably swiftly, and his name is Marshall Mathers a.k.a. Slim Shady a.k.a. Eminem - but because its content would be considered juvenile, reprehensible even, by most right-thinking adults. It was me who wrote in these pages about the shaky moral ground on which the Prodigy's unpleasant "Smack My Bitch Up" staked its claim, and here I am recommending an album that contains scenes of extreme violence, shootings, rampant homophobia, misogyny and just about every other trick in the anti-PC book (apart from racism, notably, and perhaps understandably given the genre within which Mathers works). I can hardly believe it myself, but in spite of, or maybe because of, Eminem's splenetic, obscenity-laden delivery - he hates everybody, it seems, including his fans and most of his family - "The Marshall Mathers LP" is arguably some kind of classic.
If you're not dissuaded by the explicit content - which, after all, highlights the levels to which you have to ascend/descend to shock in today's post-"South Park" culture (and Cartman gets a look-in at one point, hilariously) - you'll witness a stunning state-of-the-nation report on what's really happening in America today - and, by extension, Europe some time next week. It's the voice of the disenfranchised underclass, "Working in Burger King/Spitting on your onion rings", as he raps at one point, telling it like it is, the kind of wake-up bomb that society would certainly elect to ignore if it weren't for the fact that Eminem has become phenomenally - and deservedly popular. And as he repeatedly points out, he's the symptom, not the cause, the latter being suggested as the inevitable result of a generation left to fend for themselves, without education, without parental role models or even a government to trust in - "You want me to fix up lyrics whilst the president gets his dick sucked?"
That's the agenda, all of which is brilliantly presented as Eminem raps with quickfire verbal over producer Dr Dre's bag of loops and reels, which, although not as diamond hard as those employed on the last Wu-Tang Clan album, for example, are as addictive as bubblegum crack. In fact the only time "The Marshall Mathers LP" is less than brilliantly entertaining is on the few occasions when the tracks get crowded out by guest rappers, which seems to dilute the effect and make songs such as "Remember Me?" and "Amityville" sound curiously old fashioned.
Best bits include the recent number one "The Real Slim Shady", only the third chart-topper ever to be banned from being aired on "Top Of The Pops" (following "God Save The Queen" and "Relax"), which sets out the whole Slim Shady manifesto with dazzling style, "Stan", a dialogue between Eminem and a doomed, troubled fan, blessed with an absolutely gorgeous soul diva chorus that's undoubtedly the most musical moment on the whole album and, right off the other end of the scale, "Kim", a hysterically screamed murder tale so extreme it makes you feel like an accomplice just listening to it, popular music's closest equivalent to Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange". And if you find yourself pondering, as you undoubtedly will whilst listening to this astonishing, disturbing album, exactly where the blurred line between fact and fantasy has been mapped, consider that Eminem's real-life wife is named Kim.
So that's it, then. A lot of you, I have no doubt, will detest this album, loathe the whole Eminem persona as symptomatic of everything that's wrong with music and society today. Granted, it's not pleasant listening, mainly because Marshall Mathers is one of the few with, as he puts it, "the balls to say it". I'd agree that "The Marshall Mathers LP" is on extremely dubious moral territory, forcing the listener to ask the kind of questions and make the kind of choices that aren't presented by, for example, the new Belle & Sebastian album. But therein lies its genius: it demands a response, one way or another; you will love, or you will loathe. And I can think of no other album released this year that is so nakedly, honestly divisive.
EMINEM E (Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope)
Being the collected promotional clips produced so far by Eminem a.k.a. Slim Shady a.k.a. Marshall Mathers, "E" should make for a fairly entertaining evening in. Which it does, but fine as many of the seven videos here undoubtedly are, it's difficult to shake the feeling that in opting to take strictly literal interpretations of Eminem's explicit lyrics the directors (who include former N.W.A. member, Eminem producer and rap svengali with the Midas touch Dr. Dre) have rather short-changed the viewer and sacrificed much of the mystery and majesty of the medium. You won't gain any further appreciation of, for example, "Stan" or "Guilty Conscience" from watching the videos than you would hearing the songs on record or on the radio, because your responses are so closely steered by the way the visuals describe exactly what's going on in the lyrics, no more, no less. Compare and contrast with (picking a few random examples from other people who tend to be good at this sort of thing) the videos of Radiohead, Massive Attack, The Cure, Aphex Twin, R.E.M. or Daft Punk, where the very ambiguity (or even absence) of the text gives the talented director a springboard into some other place entirely.
Rant over, bearing in mind the above, most of these promotional clips are nevertheless very good, but the real enjoyment lies in the details (for example the realisation that the eponymous character scribbling letters in "Stan" isn't actually Mr Mathers himself but an actor hand-picked for his Eminemness, or wondering whether that's his real wife and daughter in the video for "The Way I Am"), which maybe isn't the way it should be. Aside from the tunes themselves the package also offers behind the scenes footage from the "Stan" shoot and something called "The Mathers' Home", which turns out to be the "Blair Witch"-parodying short film that presaged Eminem's chainsaw-wielding stage entrance at concerts. Overall, "E" is a neat and complete little package that's commensurately more interesting when you can pick it up in Woolworths for 8 rather than the 20 or so it commanded on release.