From brat to Democrat

Eminem did his best to topple George Bush with a standout song from his new album. Now The Observer is the first Sunday paper to hear the reborn rapper's eagerly awaited LP in full




Had John Kerry won the US presidential election, a song called 'Mosh' by Eminem would doubtless have been singled out as a contributing factor. Along with its video, this anti-Bush polemic was officially 'leaked' on to the internet on the eve of the election. It's not a little ironic, given that Encore , the new Eminem album, has also now leaked unofficially , with the record company bringing forward the release date to 12 November in order to limit the damage.

More so than the antics of predictably liberal artists like Bruce Springsteen and REM, who helmed an anti-Bush tour, 'Mosh' was - is - remarkable: a virulent attack on the President by an artist who has, thus far, been more of a social irritant than a political one. Rappers are infamous for their enthusiasm for gun violence and drugs, their sexual braggadocio and their general lack of civic concern. Eminem has been one of the most controversial and downright bratty of the lot.

But 'Mosh' is an awesome rant of protest; a stirring call to arms set to a martial beat, featuring a scathing rap that impugns Bush's war for oil. It's his 'Fight the Power'. Had Kerry triumphed, it would have been credited with mobilising a vote that the liberal intelligentsia could never have reached. And Eminem's fascinating progress from bogeyman to American hero, aided in no small part by 8 Mile, his semi-autobiographical film, would have been complete.

As it is, it's just by far the best song on his latest album, a confusing and often dispiriting affair that blows hot and cold. On 'Mosh', Eminem sounds inspired, if a little self-important, lead ing his fans to a riot in the Oval Office. Furious and powerful, it raises gooseflesh.

For the remainder of the album's 80 minutes, it's a very different Eminem show. He often sounds jaded, obsessively self-analytical and even a touch self-loathing in places. The music is samey and metronomic for the most part, with Eminem self-producing a great many tracks (although Dr Dre remains a massive presence). The largely autobiographical songs have their moments of shivery truth - Encore rewards close listening - but too frequently, they alternate between bullish self-justification and puerile name-calling. There's 'Big Weenie', which pivots on lacklustre playground taunts, and 'Puke', his latest broadside against ex-wife Kim, a track punctuated by sounds of vomiting. 'You make me want to puke' is its oft-repeated gist; 'I hope you fucking die, you slut' just one of the lazy, prosaic insults that mars what could be an interesting tune. Eminem actually sings a lot of it, rather than raps.

A similar frustration occurs with 'My First Single'. Musically, it has one of the catchiest hooks on the record, but Eminem knowingly sabotages his own song, its sarcastic chorus betraying a weariness about the process of making tunes. Throughout the course of the album, he persistently reflects on how much he gets away with. Nowhere is this more plain than on the first single, 'Just Lose It'. Superficially, it is a mischievous, party-hearted send-up of his past work, with a few digs at Michael Jackson's legal troubles that the video gleefully expands upon.

So far, so much fun: this is Eminem the giant-slayer, poking fun at sacred cows. But the rehashing of his past work becomes strained and he begins spuriously deconstructing his song structures - 'This is the part where the rap breaks down,' he notes at one point. 'Everything looks like it's 8 Mile now.' It feels just a little joyless: 'Here is some pap about getting on to the dancefloor,' he seems to be saying, 'full of cliches. But you'll buy it because I'm Eminem. Ha ha!'

On 'Rain Man' he notes: 'I just did a whole song where I didn't say shit.' The profound paradox is that Eminem on pastiche autopilot is still rather good: his raps are silvery even as they degenerate into triteness. Even when he says nothing at all, he says it well.

There is substance to this record but you probably have to be a committed Eminem-watcher to savour it. His best subject has always been himself and Encore lets us catch up with the latest developments in his psychodrama. The excellent 'Evil Deeds' is the best of these instalments, in which Em reflects on his childhood with biting insight and terrific wordplay. 'Yellow Brick Road' - it's unlikely this is anything to do with the Elton John album - finds him apologising for some very early unreleased material on which he is less than gentlemanly about a black ex-girlfriend, tracks which spurred accusations of racism last year.

'Like Toy Soldiers' samples an Eighties song by Martika, and goes on at length about Eminem's feuds (known in hip hop as 'beefs'), trying, vainly, to call a truce. If you care, this is riveting stuff: a gossip column for rap people, to paraphrase Chuck D's assertion that hip hop is CNN for black people. If you don't, it's rather boring, even if Eminem in full flow remains a dazzling performer.

'Never Enough', another good song, finds him wishing he'll end up in rap heaven, alongside Jay-Z, the one kind word he has to say about anyone else on the album. Naturally, there's a song for Hailie, his daughter, about how he tries his best for her. It's not quite as sickly as first appears, and sees Eminem taking a more balanced view of his past with Kim.

Repeatedly, it's Eminem the damaged child and Eminem the struggling single father who reach out to you from this frustrating passive-aggressive album. It's a mystery how he can marshal so much outrage and produce a 'Mosh', and then idle for a great deal of his record, filling it with farts, turds and vomit sounds. It's as though he's backtracking from 'Mosh', back into safe bogeyman territory. He knows his constituency well - too much Sting action and he's toast - but Encore is the poorer for it.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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