Music albums are best served with an actual point and an underlying theme — much like any art form. Otherwise it’s like a book that meanders aimlessly chapter to chapter, becoming a collection of ideas that never amount to anything. Sometimes listening to a few isolated songs conceals this, as you’re forced to take them independently for what they seem to be. However, if you listen to the entire album from start to finish you can spot a poorly thought-out one much easier as the tracks slide from one contradictory point to another.
Take Eminem in the Bad Meets Evil album “Hell: The Sequel”. Though it wasn’t my first listen during a recent flight to NY, it was certainly my closest listen and was very revealing.
I Care Enough Not To Care At All
One song early in the album, “Above the Law”, points out the disparity between the wealthy and poor. The chorus includes the line “the poor stay poor, the richer get richer. It’s just so disproportionate.” A stroke of apparent sympathy, but the song offers no solution to the problem and quickly shifts into an attitude of “since things suck I’m going to do whatever I want.” What could come off as a rich person feeling remorse for how much better their life is than others becomes more of a mockery of the very point it pretends to embody.
Climbing Mt. Everest Barefoot
The album then heads into a trite ditty about how awesome his life is (and Royce’s), giving example after example of why he’s on top of the world. Rather than taking the approach of thanking the fans that made his life this way, it’s presented as more of an arrogant “this is why I’m amazing and owe nothing to anyone” statement. At one point he even says “had a dream I was king. Woke up and was still king.” A couple songs ago he almost seemed to feel bad about the chasm between the rich and poor, but now he’s too busy basking in how cool it is to be rich that he’s forgotten completely about the “little people” that made him that way.
What’s Mine is Yours, But is Really Mine
A third song that really ties the bow on this point is “Take From Me”. In this track he complains about how no one takes him seriously enough, how the fans seem to just want more and more of him, and how people pirating his music are “really fucking [his] shit up.” “I hope y’all don’t think you’re helping me with that shit,” he says, with a hook that chides “Is everything not enough? How much more can I give up? I give you my all and you still take from me.” I hope he doesn’t expect us to feel sorry for how bad his life is immediately after a song about how amazing his life is versus everyone else. He called himself a king, and like a tyrant he basks in his glory while chiding his subjects for not doing even more to make his life amazing.
What Can We Glean From This?
The album feels lazily slapped together, like a collection of randomly created songs packaged in what could be called “My Latest Shit” because there is no other unifying point. Well, other than ego, but even that point seems unsure of itself at times. Unlike his previous works in which an album seemed to generally told a story of his life with various songs aligned with each other, this album can’t make up its mind whether to appreciate people or spit in their face, whether to be proud of cleaning up through rehab and being better than ever or glorifying being on as many drugs as possible. (That’s one of the better songs on the album, but that doesn’t make it fit thematically.) Maybe this has been the case in his previous works more than I remember, but the overarching point here is that there is no overarching point.
Albums like this bask in their overrated glory the way famous authors sometimes get lazy in their story lines, yet continue to sell books based on their reputation alone. It would be like if Stephen King took a random collection of ideas and threw them sloppily into a book, came up with a zingy title, and knew that it would sell anyway because hey — his fans will buy anything with his name on it.
Without any kind of plan or overall point, it’s like starting to write a book without ever asking yourself “What is this story about?” Sure, free writing is great for getting some ideas out, but your work will never be polished if you don’t think in terms of chapter progression or what it will mean to someone else.