Eminem's hits and misses

Music Review

December 06, 2005|By RASHOD D. OLLISON | RASHOD D. OLLISON,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

It's hard to believe it has been just six years since Marshall Mathers, a blond, unassuming, Detroit-bred rapper with a killer flow, stormed into pop.

Known to the world as Eminem, he seems to have been around much longer, upsetting conservative media pundits, homosexual activists, black women and George W. Bush. His whiny tone and razor lyrical dexterity, his weird sense of humor and Dr. Dre's innovative beats have pushed his record sales past 65 million. He owns three Grammys.

In less than 10 years, Eminem has become perhaps the most successful artist in hip-hop. Still, his last two albums -- 2002's The Eminem Show and especially 2004's Encore -- showed signs of creative strain. The naked tales of his crazy life past and present just didn't seem all that interesting anymore. His rhymes weren't as shocking or amusing as they were on the first albums: The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP. The biting jokes just got on your nerves after a while.

On Curtain Call: The Hits, in stores today, the rapper compiles his best moments. There seems to be no new album of original material in the pipeline. So this is a holdover, a 16-cut with a bonus track best-of set, out in time for the holidays. The retrospective also gives us a chance to rediscover what made Eminem such a force in the first place.

The hits, arranged out of chronological order, are augmented with three new cuts. "Fack" is a silly, maniacal, pornographic rant. "When I'm Gone," the current single, is leaden and boring. "Shake That," the requisite club number, is pedestrian, though Nate Dogg's smoothed-out vocals add some lift. He's always a treat to hear.

The bonus track, the live version of "Stan" done with Elton John at the 2001 Grammy Awards, is pointless. (The much better original version with Dido is also included.)

The high points of Curtain Call are culled from Eminem's first two albums. "My Name Is" is so late '90s with its dated pop cultural references: "I can't figure out which Spice Girl I wanna impregnate." But it is one of the rapper's best showcases of his wicked sense of humor. "The Way I Am" is a solid display of the tense, menacing side of Marshall Mathers. "Stan" proves that Eminem is one of the finest storytellers in hip-hop. The absolute best track the artist has done so far is 2003's driving "Lose Yourself," a classic mix of all the things that make Eminem special.

But as the collection dips into The Eminem Show and Encore, the tracks lose some verve. The rapper's take on sentimentality -- "Mockingbird" and "Like Toy Soldiers" -- seems listless. Even with 17 tracks altogether, Curtain Call feels incomplete. The politically fiery "Mosh," a highlight on Encore, is absent. And "Square Dance," a strong oddity from The Eminem Show, would have been a nice inclusion.

As it stands, Curtain Call succinctly summarizes what made Eminem such a powerful pop/hip-hop presence. He was never afraid to reveal various sides of his persona, no matter how twisted they seemed.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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