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The Eminem Show
Yahoo Music (May 2002)

Can it mere coincidence that the third Eminem album hits the streets in the same week that the third series of “Big Brother” begins its hijack of British popular culture? The similarities are startling. Two established voyeuristic formats with guaranteed results. Both surrounded by a media frenzy that ensures we know every last microscopic detail about the subjects the split second they occur. There are no surprises just inevitabilities, familiar guilty pleasures waiting to happen. Two fools will fall in love. One will run through his usual gamut of hate.

Marshall Mathers III knows this, of course, which is why the title of album three tips a subtle, knowing nod to the ultimate reality project, “The Truman Show”. But if he was being truly honest, he would have found some way to twist a pun out of “Groundhog Day”. Because, like Bill Murray’s character who’s doomed to live out the same nightmare again and again (and like Jim Carrey’s who is stuck in a suburban purgatory), Marshall is trapped within the character of Eminem.

Consider the evidence. In “Cleanin Out My Closet”, he unleashes an astonishingly corrosive torrent of hatred towards his parents, saying “I’ve got some skeletons in my closet/and I don’t know if no-one knows it”, but the fact is we’ve heard the story repeated for years now. Other themes: loathes his wife (check), feels persecuted by critics and the authorities (we know), is the voice of white America (heard it), is here to save hip-hop (yep), blahdeblahdenananana (uh-huh).

This isn’t laziness on Marshall’s part, though. He literally has no choice but to bounce off the same ideas, to attack the usual suspects. “I’ve created a monster,” he says on “Without Me”, “no one wants to see Marshall anymore”. On “Say Goodbye To Hollywood”, he’s more explicit. “No one puts a grasp on the fact that I sacrificed everything I had,” he says referring to privacy, dignity, stability, happiness, sanity even. “If I could go back/I never would have rapped.”

There are times on this album when you start to fear for the mental health of Marshal Mathers III. The “Groundhog Day”-style repetition hits overdrive on two tracks – “Drips” and “Haile’s Song” – where he repeats the same verse again and again and again and again until you begin to wonder what he’s trying to prove – or block out. The former is a distinctly dubious rant about sexual disease which casts “bitches” as the cause and “dudes” as the victims. The latter sees Marshall singing about the relief and joy his daughter gives him, with the phrase “nothing can take her from me” almost sounding like a threat to himself.

Make no mistake, no one on this planet would last five seconds being Eminem, let alone Marshall Mathers III. The world he inhabits is a twisted, cruel, horrific place, even if what we see of it is simply entertainment. On “When The Music Stops”, he outlines the perks of the position: “no laughs, no friends, no girl, just the gin you drink”. On “Superman”, his attitude towards women is appalling, but this isn’t dumb, kneejerk sexism, it’s ingrained, full grade misogyny. He fucking hates, mistrusts, undervalues and fears every girl on the planet save his daughter, always haunted by his mother and ex-wife. At times, he sounds like Norman Bates. At others, he is unforgivable: “I’ll put anthrax on your tampax and slap you til you can’t stand.”

Violence underpins this record in the same way the death of loved one taints your soul forever. Having been accused of pistol-whipping a love rival in a parking lot, Marshall revels in gunplay, often glorifying and sermonising in the same song. “Soldier” is an exercise in machismo, Marshall declaring that he has an “obligation” to his image to be a glock-toting idiot and that “being reasonable will leave you full of bullets”. Elsewhere he says “the best thing I ever did was take the bullets out of the gun because I would have killed them”. And on “When The Music Stops” he reaches the only possible conclusion – pointing the gun to his own head and pulling the trigger.

That’s the grand tease of this album of course. On several songs, Marshall hints that he doesn’t plan on being Eminem for much longer. He’s 28 now and in “Soldier” he says “the fire inside expires at 30”. He needs to get “his feet on solid ground” he raps in “Say Goodbye To Hollywood”, needs a respite from being in the Big Brother World 24/7. “I don’t wanna quit but shit this is sick.” “I just want to leave this game with level head intact”. There are even two references to suicide on the album – one via pills in “Hollywood” and the gunshot outlined above.

Where could he go, what could he do, if he wasn’t Slim Shady, the trailer trash kid that America loves to hate? Well, he could become Senator Shady and use his obvious, fierce intelligence for some political good. It may sound crazy, but “White America” is a sharp swipe at the double standards of US society, in which he “spits liquor in the face of this democracy of hypocrisy”. “Square Dance”, meanwhile, mounts a slightly more muddled attack on the war on terrorism, with Marshall declaring he plans to “ambush the Bush administration” but concluding that “I say Hussein, you say Shady”, so really it’s just all about him.

Which is where we came in. You know what’s going to happen in this latest series of “Big Brother”. You’ve seen it all before. But still you’re drawn to the TV set, sucked in by the drama, obsessed by the press cuttings. And, hey, whaddya know? Marshall Mathers has the talent and sheer force of personality to rap his shopping list and diary of business appointments during the last tax month of 2002 and still we’re hooked. We’ve heard it all before, we know the punchline, we’ve bought into the joke, but still we want the delivery again and again. “I sold my soul to the devil and I’m never getting it back.” If those words aren’t engraved on Marshall Mathers III’s tombstone, the world is more fucked up than you can possibly imagine.


Ian Watson
Music, film, comedy and travel journalist based in London

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