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White American

Eminem Makes His Rock Move

Unfortunately, Dre's dull-ass "Hell, yeah"s compromise the effect, a failing that typifies what's saddest about The Eminem Show—insofar as it's hip hop, it ain't exactly, how they say it, fresh. It's not funny enough, for one thing. None of the first-rate rhymes are up to the standard of, for example, "The Way I Am," and although Eminem has never been the "storyteller" lazy defenders pretend he is, the few tracks you could call narratives never think to try for the complexity of "Stan" or "My Fault." Sadder still is that his greatest formal gift—his knack for persona play in which Marshall Mathers, Slim Shady, and Eminem joust over patches of psychic and semiotic territory whose borders no surveyor will ever lay out—only resurfaces with "My Dad's Gone Crazy." When his mom and his ex-wife make their brief appearances, the tone is rock-confessional no matter how extreme or cruel the conceits; the insults leveled at Moby and Jermaine Dupri have no madness in them. Moreover, neither do the much worse insults marshalled at women—"Drips," a vile skank-as- AIDS-carrier vehicle that he shares with his asshole buddies D-12, is even more pro forma than the hackneyed rockboy/rapboy fuck-'em-and-forget-'em of the Dina Rae duet "Superman." It's a depressing testimony to the acuity and diminished expectations of today's sexual discourse that neither of these songs will excite a tenth of the vituperation aimed at "Kim," an agonized working critique of the misogynist mindset both voice so stupidly and regressively.

The self-involved follow-up to a star-time breakthrough is a tale rock has told countless times without enough happy endings, though they certainly happen: Highway 61 Revisitedand Rumoursraising, Fear of a Black Planetand In Uteroholding. Maybe we could make The Slim Shady LPthe breakthrough and The Marshall Mathers LPits untoppable culmination. But if it's hope for the future you want, you'll have to seek it out in Eminem's capacity for stupidity and regression. "The Night I Fell in Love" is a great Eminem song because it assumes the standard argument that hip hop's songs of mayhem are "just stories," daring Eminem to take offense at a skillful fable that insults his pathetic manhood while calling him a nice bloke. Where ordinarily the Pet Shop Boys are masters of narrative distance, what's missing in their gibe is persona play—the possibility that the schoolboy protagonist could be Neil Tennant or Chris Lowe. The reason Eminem means more than the Pet Shop Boys at his best is how provocatively and passionately he leaves such questions open, testing the tension between representation and authenticity that's given rock and roll fans that funny feeling in their stomachs for nearly half a century. Because he can be such a jerk, he can also be such a genius. Whether the failure of this album to sell like the last one will drive him to such heights again remains to be heard.

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