(Shady / Interscope **)
Eminem skillfully stoked expectations for Revival, his first album in four years, with “The Storm,” an anti-Trump screed that went viral after its debut on the BET Awards in October. Though many mainstream acts have avoided talking politics for fear of alienating their bases, the Detroit rapper generated buzz by going so far as to unequivocally tell Trump supporters among his fans that they need to choose between him and the president.
On Revival, Slim Shady keeps hammering at Trump, with less success the second and third time around. “Untouchable” is a ham-handed, clunky attempt by the world biggest white rapper to examine his privileged status; “Like Home,” which features a soaring “New York State of Mind” chorus from Alicia Keys, fares somewhat better while striking a hopeful note.
Political punches that don’t land are the least of Eminem’s problems on Revival, however. The way-too-long album is wildly uneven and uncertain what it wants to be. The opener, “Walk on Water,” which features Beyoncé, finds the rapper doubting his self-worth in a way that’s both in keeping with the self-critical strain throughout his career and borrowing a theme from “Kill Jay Z,” the lead track on the far more graceful 4:44.
But from that somewhat promising beginning, the album works at cross purposes, attempting to reconcile the mature musings of a 45-year-old man with the juvenile wilding out of “the old Eminem.” There are a few effective tracks, such as “Need Me,” a collaboration with Pink that’s as much hers as his. But Revival’s production, some by Alex Da Kid, some by Eminem himself, is pedestrian at best, with the most disappointing tracks helmed by Rick Rubin, who wheels out a too-obvious sample of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” on “Remind Me,” the second time Em has used Jett’s most famous track.
The idea seems to be to capture a measure of the bratty magic of License to Ill-era Beastie Boys. Instead, the rapper winds up embarrassing himself. In the past, Eminem has rapped a lot about his relationships with women — his mother, his ex-wife, his daughter — to either compelling or horrific effect, depending on your point of view.
But when attempting to interact with members of the opposite sex who are not his immediate family, he’s way out of his comfort zone. On Revival, he frequently rhymes as a man on the make, out on the prowl in the club. It’s not a pretty picture: Not surprisingly, sex talk is not really his thing. In “Heat” he actually asks a woman to “twist it like an air-conditioning knob.” Ouch. The entirety of Revival isn’t as painful as that, but the album still registers as one of the bigger disappointments of the year.