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Thursday, Dec. 9, 2004 10:19 pm

sound patrol 12-9-04

Tired Eminem rolls another rock up a hill

art1640
Eminem Encore (Aftermath/Interscope)

Eminem
Encore
(Aftermath/Interscope)

If you're curious about how Eminem's art has evolved during the two-and-a-half years since his last full-length, The Eminem Show, the Encore cover andbooklet tell you everything you need to know. On a fancy stage, in front of a sumptuous velvet curtain, hip-hop's Elvis takes a graceful bow while hiding a revolver behind his back. Other photos depict mortally wounded audience members in disheveled evening dress, clutching their blood-spattered programs; an apologetic, hastily scrawled suicide note; and Em with both hands clasped around the gun in his mouth. He hates you, he hates everybody, he hates himself for being so hateful. In other words, more of the same old same-old: a rage so fine that no idea can violate it.

Much has been made of "Mosh," the CD's Dubya-bashing second single, which came out right before the election and seemed to herald the debut of a new, mature, politically minded Eminem. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, it made not one whit of a difference come Nov. 2. Either his disaffected suburban fans were just too disaffected to get to their polling places or they've learned not to take him seriously -- it hardly matters at this point. The president joins the pathetic pantheon of Eminem enemies: ex-wife Kim, mother Debbie, Ja Rule, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Benzino, and a bunch of other people (or puppets) that no 32-year-old man has any business obsessing over. The song's you-can-make-a-difference message seems naïve and unconvincing: "Let the president answer a higher anarchy/Strap him with an AK-47/Let him go fight his own war, let him impress Daddy that way/No more blood for oil, we got our own battles to fight on our own soil." Eminem says he wants to be "the voice and your strength and your choice," that he wants to lead the kids into disarming "this weapon of mass destruction that we call our president for the present," but that's the funny thing about mosh pits: The anger is contained, ritualistic, and ultimately harmless. Lead 'em if you must, Mr. Mathers, but they ain't going nowhere.

Of course, he knows this already. It's what makes Eminem and his meta-raps so endlessly fascinating to the chattering classes. He's a postmodernist's pinup, all ambiguity and contradiction and facet upon facet: for every Slim Shady, there is a Marshall Mathers; for every assertion, a denial; for every slur, an apology. He pre-emptively mocks himself, satirizing his own work so brilliantly and thoroughly that his critics seem like redundant nags. "Woe is me," he says in "Evil Deeds," the CD's opening track. "There goes poor Marshall again/Whining about his millions and his mansion and the sorrow he's always drowning in/And the dad that he never had, and how his childhood was so bad/And how his mom was a dope addict, and his ex-wife how they go at it."

Only Eminem can make the subject of his own creative stagnation remotely interesting, although it's not always interesting enough. It helps that he's got Dr. Dre, whose grim and elegant string snippets invest even the weakest tracks with an apocalyptic gravitas. It also helps that he's the best lyricist in the business, juggling internal rhymes and almost-rhymes with the logorrheic abandon of James Joyce on Ritalin. Even when Eminem sounds uninspired and exhausted, as he does for interminable stretches of this way-too-long CD, his verbal virtuosity is matchless. But he's set the bar awfully high with his three previous albums, which may explain why he seems almost paralyzed with doubt on this one. On those rare occasions when he's not cracking on quadriplegics, perseverating about his pee-pee, indulging in bizarre homoerotic fantasies, or making infantile farting, belching, and vomiting noises, he sounds anxious and sad, a hip-hop Sisyphus doomed to reenact the same tired psychodramas for all eternity.

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