Eminem - The Way I Am
It started the longest and most fruitful love affair I’ve had in music – hip hop. As far as I can tell, Eminem was instrumental in drawing a lot of ’90-’95 born kids into the hip hop world and I was no exception.
Slipknot - Duality
Yes it’s corny but it just so happens that just at the turn of my teens I was trying to get a girl to like me and she listened to all this heavy metal so I asked her for some good metal tunes and she recommended this. I mean, yeah, I wouldn’t listen to it very much now just because I’m not into Slipknot but it’s still a pretty big deal in terms of what happened after.
Pendulum - Fasten Your Seatbelt
The song that taught me that all electronic music wasn’t the kind that chavs played out of their Sony Ericssons at 3:20 on a Friday afternoon. It was the first “drum and bass” song I jammed to and it started a long and fruitful relationship.
Reuben - Suffocation Of The Soul
The band that I would call my all time favourite, Reuben took a while to grow on me but I think they’re just the perfect band. “Suffocation of the Soul” was the turning point, when I heard that epic minute-long scream from frontman Jamie Lenman.
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosuars - Household Goods
This is the song that made me want to produce music in the style that I do now, the song that made me realise where electronic music was going and that woke me up to TEED.
Pink Floyd - Comfortably Numb
Prior to the age of eleven, music with neither an important nor a pleasant phenomena in my life; it had not become the all-pervading, omnipresent God it is to me now, and was still very much a minor deity, only manifesting itself in my life in the guise of gimmicky bubblegum pop at Primary School Disco Jelly And Cake Binge-fests, or the Shania Twain-stained car rides to which I was subjected whenever travelling anywhere with my mother (even at that tender age, such experiences made me pray for psychokinetic abilities, if only so it would enable me to make the car swerve off the road, taking my mother, and her pick-up truck-eulogizing country-pop music with it). Besides the feelings I had towards the lyrics of the Pokemon theme tune at that age, treating it almost as a national anthem, I cannot boast having felt passionately about any one piece of music till I heard Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd, the live version, from the Is There Anybody Out There? album (otherwise known as The Wall: Live); a rock opera about a troubled musician known as Pink, who in response to all the pain, trauma, and disaffection of his life, constructs a metaphorical wall around himself, wherein he goes insane, imagines himself a great dictator, engages in all the violent frolic dictators commonly engage in to pass the time, before eventually being held on trial by all the people who caused him to build a wall around himself in the first place, all of whom find him guilty, and, as a punishment, sentence this self-same wall to be torn down, leaving him naked, vulnerable and bleeding once again. The pinnacle of the album, Comfortably Numb describes the part of Pink’s career in which, almost hebephrenically unresponsive to those around him, he becomes enamoured with his feverish isolation and dictatorial delusions and is loathe to leave his comfortably benumbed state, despite the exhortations of the doctor attempting to revive him for the show he is about to perform. From the haunting, invidious voice of Roger Waters portraying the Doctor, who all but climbs in your ear and seductively dismembers your synapses, to the piercing, chorus-marinated guitar solo by David Gilmour at the song’s climax — which led me to pick up a guitar myself — the song is a visceral and febrile piece of music, as beautiful as it is flagellating, and, on the first listen, had an effect on me like a fever dream, like catching meningitis in Toys ‘R‘ Us: infecting my everyday life with fear and phantasmagoria, but, in the aftermath, always looked on with vehement fondness, adoration and nostalgia. Not only did this song lead me to become the multi-instrumentalist and composer I am today, it gave me a passport to a world of music and soundscapes I have been illegally smuggling myself back into ever since.
Soft Machine - Facelift
Before the age of Spotify and YouTube when you didn’t have the luxury of listening to an album before you’d bought it and then just illegally downloading it anyway, you had to find new music the old fashioned way: by going into a music store other than HMV, finding the CD with the most surrealistic album cover or absurd/sexually allusive track listing, handing over the £10 or so it cost to a bearded guru all but levitating above the cash register and sweating incense, taking said CD home, and hoping, that when placed in the CD drive, what came out of the speakers would not be the audio equivalent of a pigeon caught in a lawnmower being manned by a pre-emptive taxidermist. I bought the album Third by Soft Machine in just this fashion, imploring my mother to let me order it off Amazon without having heard any of the music first, solely because I’d heard the band’s name mentioned in conjunction with Pink Floyd and because the album was extolled for its ‘weirdness’. At that age, the phrase ‘this is weird and unlistenable’ was almost always readily translatable as ’BUY ME AND THUS EXPAND THE PARAMETERS OF YOUR OWN WEIRDNESS, REUBEN, YOU DETESTABLY ECCENTRIC FUCK’, so buy the album I did, and I did not regret it. From the very first moment I placed Third in the disc drive and started listening to the opening track, Facelift, a twenty minute, experimental, Jazz Fusion and Noise composition — (small-fry for a person whose most recent listening material has consisted of hour long Drone Metal songs) — I felt intensely nauseated. It made me feel sick. I felt both car sick and seasick at the same time, when, in actuality, I was moving nowhere but in the maelstrom of the strange, upsetting music assailing my ears. A tour de force of fusion-driven atonality, I couldn’t even recognise the sounds I was hearing. The track begins with a drone over which screeches what sounds like a vacuum cleaner attempting to play an alto saxophone, which, becoming increasingly frustrated with its efforts, decides to take out its anger on the listener. What follows is no less abrasive, progressing through unmapped terrains of out of tune Indian music, bitchin’ 5/4 bass grooves played over no less bitchin’ 5/4 alto sax riffs, flute interludes, what sounds like two different sections of the song being played at the same time, culminating in a return to one of the opening themes being abused by studio effects and played in reverse. After having weathered all twenty minutes of this, I felt as though I’d actually undergone a Facelift, and, in a manner of speaking, I had, for the Face I had when I came out the other end was not one of the deformed, horror movie faces of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Elephant Man, or Peter Bogdanovich’s Mask, but the happy, enlightened face of one of who has just had a conversation with god and discovered he wears a beret.
Frank Zappa - Catholic Girls
On the eve before the morning of my very first week-long whiskey hangover, I met a man who was to change my life forever. The father of a girl I was inexplicably smitten with at the time, we had a brief, though epoch-making chat about music after he’d dropped her off, in which he promised to burn some CDs for me, and, true to his word, did just that, amongst them a copy of the Cheap Thrills compilation by Frank Zappa. Having heard Zappa’s name invoked often but having never heard any of his music, I had no idea what to expect. I was immediately bamboozled by the manic eclecticism of the opening track, Catholic Girls [live], with its cartoon character vocals, funk bass, sudden unexpected mergings into big band music lauding the singularity of oral sex delivered by the titular subject of the song, two note guitar solo, unbelievable passages of tossed-off syncopation and sax solos. I didn’t understand the music at all. I couldn’t understand what it was trying to do. It didn’t seem to be aspiring to be beautiful or psychologically transportive like the Prog Rock to which I was accustomed; in fact, it seemed like it was trying to do the exact opposite — as though it was trying to piss me off, to be ugly, to make me annoyed, or lose my patience — I couldn’t make sense of it all. But, alas, like many things in my life that I meet with initial confusion or hostility, I came to love it, and became a frantic devotee of Frank Zappa and proud owner of most of his albums: no mean feat considering he had upward of eighty of them. The most important thing that Zappa taught me is that ‘The Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes, and never has been.’ Life is not a trial or a race for survival but an endless joke for which we are forever postponing the punchline; and if anyone gets offended by this, or takes it all too seriously, be sure you have a whoopee cushion poised at the ready for when the nincompoop sits downs.
Captain Beefheart - Frownland
Getting into the music of Captain Beefheart is like deliberately deciding to stick your head up a cow’s rear end: most people lack the temerity to try it in the first place, and those who do, shocked by the stench and appalling interior decor, quickly remove themselves, and expunge all memories of the incident from their minds. Those who stay do not do so by choice; they find themselves caught in the fetid shackles of the cow’s constricting sphincter, unwilling tenant to a room in which the wallpaper consists of the best of what four stomachs and a diet of grass have to offer. Unpleasant at the offing, but, after a prolonged tenancy, the anally-bound prisoner finds themselves perceiving a strange beauty and spasmodic artistry in the malodorous barrage of the cow’s bowel movements, and, succumbing to this Stockholm Syndrome, refuses to leave, even when the paramedics arrive with The Jaws of Life and a novelty-cheque-sized tube of Anusol in tow. Such was my reaction when I first heard Frownland by Captain Beefheart from the Troutmaskreplica album. Anticipating an album of colourful Jazz, I was bewildered to hear an opening track only 1 minute and forty-five seconds long, in which each member of the band seemed to be allowing themselves to play whatever they wanted, so long as it AT NO POINT, corresponded with what the other band members were doing, while Beefheart himself, in his proto-Tom Waits voice, roared abstract poetry over the top: but the band were not just making it up as they went along; they knew every note, could play it backwards and forwards if they wanted to, had spend over a year in prison camp-like confinement ensuring that they could do so: I was the small-minded one for not being able to see the discipline and composition in their chaos, not they for making music above my limited comprehension. Beefheart taught me to always have the patience to find the patterns in madness, even if you go mad yourself in the process, for it is much better to go mad and be enlightened, than to be trapped in the thralls of a rigidified sanity that thinks itself above such things; such a boxed-in perspective is a more terrible place to be than even the most flatulent of cow’s anuses, and not a fate I would wish on anyone.
Eminem announced as first Reading & Leeds headliner
So Festival Republic have jumped back in time to 2001 and signed Mr Marshall Mathers as one of the three headliners for Reading & Leeds 2013. Whoop-de-do? Whilst there’s no doubting Em’s back catalogue is filled with classics (most of which defined a generation’s childhood and adolescence), he hasn’t done anything worthwhile for over eight years. Unless he sticks solely to the classics and avoids everything from after 2005 (“Not Afraid” can fuck right off), you’re best buggering off to one of the smaller stages for a few hours. And this isn’t an anti-genre bias akin to Jay-Z and Beyonce’s Glastonbury headlining slots; both were relevant at the time of their sets, and still are. Eminem on the other hand is fast becoming as MOR as it’s possible to become in hip-hop.
But there’s always Alt-J, right? Right?!
Come one, come all, and watch Eminem shit all over the legacy he has worked his entire life to build! You may remember him as that charismatic firebrand who released a series of classic hip-hop albums at the turn of the century, but with The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Eminem firmly hammers what could be the final nail in the coffin of his own career.
The idea of a sequel to Eminem’s most critically lauded piece of work, the inaugural Marshal Mathers LP, had every Eminem stan in the world drooling a bit. Marshall Mathers #1 was a standard entry into hip-hop for an entire generation of suburban kids; its cartoon approach to violence and nu-metal-esque angst were great hooks for a lot of kids to discover rap. However, the variation in the production, the unabashed honesty in which Eminem talks about his life and the vibrant personality that emanates from the record is what made it stand the test of time amongst critics and fans alike. After the disappointments of Relapse and Recovery, even the mere idea of a sequel or comparison to his 2001 classic re-sparked the interested that had long been extinguished in many fans minds. Unfortunately, this just makes Marshall Mathers 2’s lack of quality seem borderline insulting to his long term listeners.
The major problem with Eminem trying to re-tread sacred ground is the fact that the original album was so personal and of its time that trying to recapture what made it so special is almost pointless. Whilst Marshall Mathers #1 seemed full of emotional catharsis, wheeling out these issues again over a decade and millions of dollars later seems kind of moot. For example, on “Rhyme or Reason”, Em once again talks about how his dad walking out on him as a child ruined his life. The problem is now Eminem is an influential near-middle-aged millionaire whose future, and the futures of at least the next two generations of his family, is secured until he dies, which makes him a very difficult character to sympathise with, regardless of backstory. In fact, the best tracks in terms of subject matter are often the ones in which he assesses his current situation, instead of bringing up muck from his past. In “Headlights”, he admits that he has been too hard on his mother, and attempts to make amends with her after years of venting his frustrations on songs about her on multi-platinum records, which displays a level of emotional maturity you’d expect from a 41 year old man which is completely lacking from most other parts of the album.
Another feature of the first Marshall Mathers LP Eminem revisits is the once-controversial shock humour. Unfortunately, Eminem doesn’t even have the “I can’t believe he just said that” factor to cling onto in this respect, because offensive is exactly what you expect from Eminem. In the heavily misogynistic “So Much Better”, for example, he presumably addresses all the women in the world, and claims that all they’re good for is “doink doink doink”. This could either mean sex, or portraying the late professional wrestler Doink The Clown three times. Presuming it’s the former, this kind of leaves him looking a bit hypocritical considering the huge amount of female guest artists he has on the album, who actually do more than, erm, “doink”, but actually sing and stuff. A quick "I’m just playing bitch, you know I love you" (the same disclaimer as used on the infamous “Kill You”) at the end of the song doesn’t erase the hate speech of the previous four minutes either.
It’s also not funny, because Em’s included absolutely zero comic devices in “So Much Better”, which the absent-minded rapper continues to do throughout the album, mistakenly thinking that taking pot-shots at women, gay people and celebrities is an adequate replacement for wit. So technically it’s not shock humour, because it is neither shocking nor humorous. So what is it? It’s just filler.
One of this album’s few saving graces is Eminem’s technical skill which is perhaps better than it has ever been, as anyone who has heard the monster single “Rap God” can attest to. Although the last verse on that track may be the impressive pinnacle of the album, Em remains consistently speedy throughout the track, dropping wordplay so fast that it takes repeated listens to absorb. Despite this causing “oohs” and “ahhs” at his flow like you’re at a fireworks display, it doesn’t cover up that he is mostly saying nothing behind it. In reality, whilst Eminem was always a fantastic MC, his technical skill was never really his selling point. Just compare “The Way I Am” to the aforementioned “Rap God”; it moves at a snail’s pace by comparison, but its complex-yet-fitting rhyme pattern, emotional ferocity and gritty beat make it the more memorable track by a wide margin. In essence, listening to The Marshall Mathers LP 2 is like listening to one of those shred guitar albums, in that it shuns skilled song-writing in favour of desperately trying to impress the listener with sheer technical prowess, which is favoured by no-one but obsessive audiophiles who like to talk about ‘real music’.
Despite all of its faults, you can’t help but feel that this album would at least be somewhat listenable had it been backed by some interesting producers. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the beats on this album very rarely go beyond passable. The worst offenders are “So Far” and “Love Games”, which sound a lot like Smash Mouth for some bizarre reason. The vast majority of the beats just inoffensive, which is surprising, given that “Lose Yourself” producer Louis Resto was involved in many of the tracks, but then again, maybe it’s not, given ubiquitous executive producer Rick Rubin’s recent track record (he just loves compression, doesn’t he?). It would just be rude, however, to ignore how good the work on “Bad Guy” is, carrying the narrative incredibly well, and briefly teases what the album could have been.
Ultimately, The Marshall Mather LP 2 assaults the listener with disappointment in nearly all the areas that made Eminem listenable. If you want a focus on lame shock value, listen to Tyler, The Creator. If you want a Detroit rapper with a vibrant personality, listen to Danny Brown. If you want Eminem, listen to some old Eminem. For fucks sake, do not listen to this. Unless you want to hear a fading star digging himself deeper and deeper into irrelevance, in which case, knock yourself out.