The signs were ominous for Eminem's latest effort. His ninth album was announced nearly eight weeks before its release; such a long album roll-out is unheard off nowadays, in an industry where big acts drop albums with minimal fanfare for maximum social-media effect. Revival's release strategy was an analogue marketing plan in a digital world.
It is a fitting way to describe the record, which sadly finds one of hip-hop's most gifted and assured artists creatively marooned. Everything about Revival, from its epic 77-minute running time to its unwieldly production, feels cumbersome. Then again, Eminem was never fond of brevity, but he could usually fall back on his verbal gymnastics to dazzle us through mouldy moments.
Unfortunately, even on that score, Eminem is left wanting here. Revival's aim is to form a rallying cry against injustice, racism and corporate greed, but such topics seems to have weighed down on an artist whose kinetic lyricism relies on sheer impulse. The decision to take on such topics, no matter how well-intentioned, result in songs such as opener Walk on Water and Chloraseptic failing to take flight.
This perhaps explains the plethora of pop stars who guest throughout – their soaring hooks provide relief. The best is on Like Home, an effective call for unity that comes with a sky-high chorus from R'n'B singer Alicia Keys. The thundering beats and Eminem's cry to "stand up" should sound glorious on his upcoming stadium tour. The folk/hip-hop mash-up of Ed Sheeran collaboration River, in which Eminem details his personal failures, should also cause crowds to wave their hands.
While there is nothing wrong in creating songs with live audiences in mind, his focus on how the songs will sound on stage is the root of Revival's misfires. The lumbering Remind Me, which samples Joan Jett's I Love Rock 'n' Roll, is as awful as you might imagine. Tragic Endings, featuring Skylar Grey's powerful vocals, finds Eminem revisiting his favourite subject of misguided relationships. However, where once it was intriguing psychodrama, it now feels like an episode in a long running soap opera.
With more than 150 million albums sold to date, Eminem has cemented his place in hip-hop history. However, judging by the tired-sounding Revival, you wonder if he has any place in its future.