Eminem names names on his ugly but tuneful new release

CD REVIEWS

June 01, 2000|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Eminem

The Marshall Mathers LP (Aftermath/Interscope 069490629)

On his first album, "The Slim Shady LP," rapper Eminem proved he was an equal-opportunity offender. He angered parents with his casual profanity and cavalier attitude toward suicide; outraged feminists by including raps about date rape and spousal abuse; and alienated record-industry types by refusing to adopt the soft, pop-friendly sound usually assumed by white rappers.

With his second album, "The Marshall Mathers LP," Eminem is out to tick off everybody he missed the first time around.

It isn't just that there's more profanity, more violence and much darker humor this time around. Eminem -- whose real name, Marshall Mathers, is the basis for the album's title -- is taking things a lot more personally with this disc. He names names. He carries grudges. And he's definitely out for blood.

Last time around, he addressed his strained relationship with his wife, Kim, in a dark parody of Will Smith's "Just the Two of Us," in which he imagined driving his daughter down to the pier, and talking sweetly as he dumped her mother's body from the trunk. This time around, "Kim" opens with him cooing over his daughter before exploding in murderous rage at his missus over an infidelity. But instead of leaving the worst to our imaginations, "Kim" lets us hear the woman (actually, Eminem trying to sound feminine) pleading for her life as her husband rages.

Fact? Fiction? It doesn't matter; the rage in this rap is real enough to be scary even if the performance is a complete fantasy.

There's a disturbing amount of score-settling on this album. Given hip-hop's history of tit-for-tat, it's not surprising that Eminem addresses some of those who've bad-mouthed him -- including Will Smith, the Insane Clown Posse and Billboard editor Timothy White -- by name. This, after all, is a guy whose own mother is suing him for defamation.

But even the most gossip-hungry listeners will be left a little queasy by the comments about teen star Christina Aguilera on the single "The Real Slim Shady." Especially considering how catchy the song is.

Then again, what makes Eminem such a magnet for controversy isn't the fact that he talks trash, but that he does so within the context of extremely appealing pop music. Like its predecessor, "The Marshall Mathers LP" is packed to bursting with sturdy hooks and infectious beats. In fact, that pop appeal is part of the reason Eminem gets away with so much, since even the most outre comments seem a little less noxious when greased by a smooth groove and hummable chorus.

Besides, no matter how nasty Eminem may seem when talking about others, he's always harder on himself. Indeed, one of the album's most moving raps is "Stan," an epistolary number that makes terrifyingly clear the kind of burden celebrity brings.

Which brings us to the real problem with Eminem. Were he just some cartoon monster, his albums would be easy to dismiss and ignore. But as raps like "Stan" make clear, he's dealing with a reality that's far uglier than the worst profanity -- and that's something much scarier than anything heard on "The Marshall Mathers LP."

* * 1/2

Lee Ann Womack

I Hope You Dance (MCA 088 170 099)

These days, the phrase "country pop" is usually taken to mean "country that sounds like rock." It doesn't have to be like that, though. Indeed, as Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance" demonstrates, it's possible for country music to be as tuneful as any pop hit without cutting itself off from the music's roots. Whether the arrangements are as down-home traditional as "The Healing Kind" or as synth-savvy as the title tune, Womack remains grounded in the high, lonesome sound most of us equate with the heart of country music. Even better, the attention to detail she lavishes on these songs leaves the listener believing that Womack feels every word of the lyric -- an impressive feat, given the passion implicit in "Lonely Too" and "Thinkin' With My Heart Again."

* * *

Towa Tei

Last Century Modern (Elektra 62528)

Like Ryuichi Sakamoto and Pizzicato Five's Yasuharu Konishi, former Deeelite DJ Towa Tei is blessed with both eclectic taste and the ability to fold all of his influences into his music. In that sense, the real surprise about "Last Century Modern" isn't that it draws on everything from classic tango to the latest in drum 'n' bass, but that it maintains such a consistent tone despite its disparate grooves. Obviously, some of that stems from Tei's impeccable taste in collaborators, especially singers. "Last Century Modern" finds him working with great voices from both sides of the Pacific, including Dr. Buzzard's Savannah Band vet Cory Daye and dark-voiced JPOP star UA. But it also helps that his sense of soul is so deep that his cover of Tom Browne's "Funkin' for Jamaica" boasts an even deeper groove than the original.

* * * 1/2

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