Curtain Call: The Hits

(Shady; Aftermath; Interscope; 2005)

By Clayton Purdom | 30 October 2007

Being that I lack both the stomach and the time to interpret fully the legacy of Marshall Mathers, and that such an endeavor would most assuredly be futile (as another half-decade’s distance is needed from the phenomenon), and that this album sucks and if I listen to it much more I’m going to go outside and set fire to a car, but that in the interest of maintaining the Glow’s dedication to incisive criticism I must nevertheless offer a review, here are:

5 Lukewarm Assertions That Can Be Made While Listening to Eminem’s Greatest Hits

1. Maybe that whole “Slim Shady” thing wasn’t such a good idea.

Although it seemed okay at first. Every rapper that’s come in the wake of gangsta rap has struggled with the inevitable contradictions between showmanship exploitation and real-life sermonizing. Biggy and ‘Pac grappled most famously, but both said “fuck it” and embraced the wildly oscillating meaning of their raps, while Jigga, at his best, straddled the divide and made both meanings work simultaneously, effusing a seen-it-all weariness with look-at-me-now braggadocio into every easy syllable.

Eminem split it down the middle, letting Slim Shady start beef and Marshall Mathers sing the requiem. This was novel, but the resulting music was not. “My Name Is” grabbed our attention with a headspinning mix of shit talk, verbal dexterity and Cap’n Crunch-sweet beats, but subsequent first singles “The Real Slim Shady,” “Without Me,” and “Just Lose It” are unlistenable retreads, each one reeking of acute idiocy worse than the one previous. By “Just Lose It,” Slim’s entirely out of touch—a feckless grab for attention toward an increasingly juvenile audience from a pathetic, grinning buffoon.

2. Maybe that whole “Marshall Mathers” thing wasn’t such a good idea, either.

Although it seemed okay at first, too. When “Stan” first flipped on my ninth grade stereo, I was ready to proclaim Eminem the voice of my generation. After the rousing, funky Slim cut “Kill You,” “Stan” seemed the most poignant possible counterbalance, a melancholy missive from a legitimately tortured artist. Em’s conflicted rumination on his own legacy brought him the critical adulation that would legitimize his misogynyhomophobia, but, as became his trend, by the next album he could only muster a hollow impersonation. In “Sing For The Moment” he makes the mistake of playing the part of the misunderstood genius, which was never even the case. Everybody understood Em’s message well enough, and in “Stan” he wisely made the antagonist someone that understood it too well—his “greatness” came from his mic skill and his cultural importance, not some misunderstood message. “Mockingbird,” meanwhile, was saccharine horseshit, a sham made pensive by one of Em’s most lazy, maudlin beats; and “When I’m Gone” was, well, the exact same fucking song. You get the point.

3. Maybe this greatest hits thing wasn’t such a good idea, either.

Eminem sold 20 million records in the past five years. During those five years, 14 of these 17 tracks dominated the media—anyone that hasn’t grown repulsed by them at this point certainly already owns them and could revisit if they wanted to. Besides, Em’s trajectory to the top was concurrent with the rise of file-trading. Could there possibly be a market out there clamoring for “all of his hits, finally in one place”? This isn’t The Beatles we’re talking about here; nobody needed a refresher on this shit. We’ve all still got “The Real Slim Shady” memorized, you know?

Of course, Eminem’s a producer now. He’s a businessman, a mentor, standing approvingly over the G-Unit suckfactory with Dre—no longer a protégé, but a peer! On his way out the game, he tosses out this Curtain Call, a shameless grab for a few extra bucks. To supplement these wan offerings he’s added three new jams, plus the previously unreleased Elton John version of “Stan” (gag). Final single “When I’m Gone” can be seen on MTV at—well, probably right now, and the Nate Dogg collaboration “Shake That” goes about as well as any Nate Dogg collaboration ever does. But . . .

4. Maybe “Fack” is the worst thing ever.

. . . and in that assertion I include “things” like genocide, the working poor, motorcycle accidents and pandemics. This abysmal self-parody lacks any compelling reason to exist, an irredeemable “fuck” song that neither arouses nor amuses. The thumping beat and sweltering strings are, at this point, trademarks of any production by Eminem, who I’ll again assert is the single worst producer in the history of hip hop: a talentless hack, bereft of ideas, who is actively stalling the art.

But it’s not the beat that makes this such a hopeless affair; it’s the lyrics. The average porno has more artistry than this, which is a shame, because “Fack” aspires to be nothing greater than just that—a work of incorrigible intent. But at least a porno has its own lascivious purpose. This is the type of music by which I—Clayton Purdom, defender of Miike, Ice Cube afficianado, ruthless alienator of friends, liberal journalism student, etc.—am very honestly troubled. Certainly an artist has the right to release something like this, and I do defend that. But the “why” is what troubles me: it lacks anything attention-getting (like old Slim Shady did) and there is no grace in its taboos, like, say, Rapeman’s abrasive exploration of the depraved. Plus, this isn’t even that taboo—it’s about ejaculation (which Lil’ Jon already breached pretty explosively) and stuffing gerbils in your ass, to which South Park already devoted a full episode about two years ago. His perversion isn’t shocking, it’s just bleak.

Here, for your edification, are the lyrics to the third verse:

OK, I'm done
I already came twice
You ain't gonna make me cum
I'm all out of gas
Not so fast
Ah, your finger just went in my ass
Ahh that hurts take it out now
Oh, wait a minute, nooo put it back in
In in in
This don't mean I'm gay, I don't like men
I like boobs
Boobs boobs
Now, see that gerbil
Grab that tube
Shove it up my butt
Let that little rascal nibble on my asshole
Oh yeah right there, right there
Uhhh I'm cumming
Oh yeah
Fack I just came again
Ok pull it out now
Oh fack yeah
Wait he's not out
He's still crawling around up there
Oh fack I think it's stuck
Oh but it feels so fucking good

“Fack” is ineffable proof of Eminem’s artistic destitution.

5. Maybe they should’ve let me compile this.

An obvious assertion, but still. Scattered through Eminem’s discography are a handful of the most giddily populist hip-hop ever released, like “Role Model” or “Cum On Everybody” from Slim Shady, “Kill You,” “Kim,” or “Marshall Mathers” from the second LP, “Superman” or “Till I Collapse” from The Eminem Show, or even “Mosh” from Encore. What’s so disappointing is that many of these were singles, and could’ve easily been included on this album. But they weren’t: this is a collection of Eminem’s most worn, vacuous moments. As a singles collection, Curtain Call is unimpressive, and as a career overview, it’s not only misleading but retroactive. This is a monument to the exploitative showboating that made Eminem famous, but it glosses completely over his talent as an emcee and his ability to tackle complicated issues (fidelity, fatherhood, fame) with nuance and humor. Stripped of his best assets and putting his worst foot (read: production) forward, Curtain Call sounds like the soundtrack to a middle school party, where the parents bought some snacks and let the kids hang out in the basement, mischievously tongue-kissing and using naughty words they don’t understand. It doesn’t sound like controversy, or genius, or madman; it doesn’t sound important or overrated; it doesn’t sound ephemeral or classic. It sounds embarrassing.