Encore – Eminem

Release Year: 2004

Rating: 6.5/10

By 2004, Eminem was one the most successful and popular rappers in music. His last two albums were mega-successes, so expectations were pretty high for this release. Maybe the pressure got to him since his fifth LP is one of his weakest. While there are some high points, most of the songs are forgettable, and some of them are too silly for their own good. Though some fans would disagree, this marked the downfall of America’s favorite rapper. He wouldn’t bounce back until 2010.

This album is a mixed bag. I remember not being impressed with it when I first heard it 10 years ago. And my thoughts haven’t really changed over the years. There’s a severe lack of memorable or strong songs on this release. Only a handful of them manage standout, one of them being “Like Toy Soldiers.” The track smartly samples the Martika track of the same name while Em raps about beefs with other rappers and how he tried his hardest to not get involved. The song recounts the 50 Cent vs Ja Rule feud, which Eminem became a part of after Ja Rule named dropped his daughter on the song “Loose Change.” He goes on to say how he tried to stop it because he knew it could lead to dire consequences. It’s a poignant track that points out how name dropping someone in the rap world is pretty dangerous. It’s thoughtful and kind of somber. As a result, Eminem has kept himself out of future feuds.

Mockingbird” is another strong song where Eminem talks directly to his daughter. Though it’s never been my favorite, it is a sweet song where he apologizes to Hallie for not being there and for not being able to work it out with Kim. It also shows his vulnerable side, like when he mentions crying after not being able to buy gifts for Christmas. Of course it wouldn’t be an Eminem song if some humor wasn’t in there, so the track ends with the statement “don’t fuck with dad.” “Mosh” is a politically charged song where the rapper calls out George Bush and tries to convince people to kick him out of office. The message is actually pretty good, but since it was released too close to the 2004 election, it didn’t have much of an effect.

The rest of songs are decent, but mainly filler. “Evil Deeds” is a better track from the bunch that revisits the familiar territory of Eminem’s childhood. As usual, there’s a lot of dark humor in the lyrics though it’s not his best writing, which is a big problem with the LP. None of the rhymes stand out as being particularly witty or powerful as they have been in the past. None of them make you go “oh!” when you hear them. And with so many of the songs revisiting Em’s past, it can get tiring. “Yellow Brick Road” is another dark song that deals with his early life in Detroit. The closing track “Encore/Curtain Call” is actually pretty good. It has an upbeat, party vibe to it and the contributions from 50 Cent and Dr. Dre are a nice touch.

I’ve always considered this more of a Slim Shady centered album since there are so many silly tracks. “Rain Man,” “My First Single,” and “Puke” are fun to listen to and have some humorous lyrics that will get a chuckle out of you, but they feel so pointless. What the fuck is he even talking about in these songs? Even Eminem knows it’s full of bullshit as he says at the end of “Rain Man:” “And I ain’t even gotta make no god damn sense/I just did a whole song and I didn’t say shit.” It’s like he ran out of ideas, which becomes more apparent with “Ass Like That,” the song where he performs in the style of Triumph the Dog, who he had a feud with. It’s one of those songs where I like it sometimes, but ultimately know it’s really stupid. Though “Just Lose It” is supposed to be the standard Slim Shady track in the same vein as “Without Me” and “Real Slim Shady,” it really can’t compare. I mean it’s pretty good and definitely catchy as hell, but again not his best.

This is an album struggling to find its identity. Em’s not sure whether he should be the Marshall Mathers he introduced the world to on his third LP or if he should give listeners the Slim Shady persona they craved. So he gave us a mix of the two, but neither are very good. The light songs are too silly and often feel pointless, while the more serious tracks revisit territory he’s previously covered in better songs. Though I wouldn’t call this my least favorite Eminem album, that honor currently goes to Relapse, it’s pretty low on my list. Very little about it stays with you once it’s finished and it’s the first time in his career where many fans and critics wondered if the rapper was finally finished. We all know now he wasn’t even close.


Hey Hey My My Yo Yo – Junior Senior

Release Year: 2005

Rating: 7/10

This Danish duo are best known for their insanely fun hit “Move Your Feet.” They release another album in 2005, that came out in the States in 2007, before disbanding in 2008. While this album keeps the party going from their previous release, the insanely happy mood, disco vibe, and high energetic vibe grow tiring mid-way through the record. After a while, you yearn for something different as the band presents yet another song about shaking that groove thing.

The album starts off with the short and sweet “Hello.” There’s not much to the track aside from various voices saying “Hello” while upbeat music plays in the background. What’s interesting to note is the track features Le Tigre. They also make an appearance on the hip-hop influenced track “Can I Get Get Get.” There’s not much to say about this song aside from it has a bit of a “Rapture” vibe to it with the rapping and it has great funky music to get you moving. “Hip Hop A Lula” is one of the stronger songs on the record with its mix of hip hop, pop, and funk. It’s full of vibrant horns, odd rap flows, and disco music that makes you do your best Saturday Night Fever moves. There’s even a slight, humorous nod to Guns N Roses “Paradise City” with the line “A take me down to the parallel city/Where the music is loud and the boys are pretty.” It’s a super fun song that makes you get up and dance.

Junior Senior experimented with a lot of different sounds on their debut, but here they feel comfortable replicating a disco sound. Songs such as “We R the Handclaps,” “Itch You Can’t Scratch,” and “I Like Music” all sound like they’re from the 70s or 80s. They manage to mix bright disco music with hip hop beats, pop inspired vocals, and a funky groove. One of the best examples of this combination comes on “Take My Time,” the best song on the LP. Just like a lot of the tracks here, it’s catchy, upbeat, and gets you moving. While the album continues with this trend most of the way through, the last few songs change pace and have more of a Motown/doo wop feel.

Ur a Girl” starts with Beach Boys/Beatles harmonies and takes up a doo wop mood during the chorus. It’s one of those songs about an innocent crush that’s so nice and pure it makes you want to puke. It’s the same story with “No No No’s” and “Dance, Chance, Romance.” Both of these are so poppy and sugary sweet it gets on your nerves. They do a great job of recreating the pop songs from the 50s/60s, but after being bombarded with so many happy, upbeat songs about dancing and letting loose you crave for something else. Not necessarily something dark or depressing. Just something not so freaking poppy and happy. When you get to these songs you’re ready to shut off the record.

Another thing that’s different about this album is how it features Motown girl group The Velvettes on vocal duty. It’s not necessarily bad, but it comes out of nowhere. It’s also a little strange seeing as how the duo did most of the vocals on their debut. Since they seemed to be going for a vintage vibe for this release, it would make sense to get a girl group from the 60s to replicate that sound, but it’s a change listeners will definitely notice.

The music here is still as fun, happy, upbeat, and dance centric. There are so many songs to put you in a good mood and the entire album is great for a party or celebration. Junior Senior do a great job working with the disco genre, but after hearing so many life-is-wonderful-let’s dance upbeat songs, it grows tiring. The last few songs manage to get on your nerves or are just so innocent and happy it makes you want to hurl. If they ever make a musical return, hopefully they’ll grow tired of the disco.

Transylvania 90210: Songs of Death, Dying, and the Dead – Wednesday 13

Release Year: 2005

Rating: 7/10

It’s been ten years since Wednesday 13 brought his love of horror movies to the music world. He’s been in multiple bands, including the Murderdolls, but is best known for his solo material. While he just released his eight studio album a few months ago, let’s take a look at his solo debut. His music explores themes of the supernatural, ghouls, zombies, and other horrific creatures. And while he makes it work for a lot of the songs, some of them have the tendency to come off as cheesy, sort of like the movies he loves.

Right from the instrumental intro track “Post Mortum Boredom,” which sounds like it was ripped from an old horror movie, you know you’re in for some horror-punk goodness. “Look What the Bats Dragged In” has a gritty hard rock vibe along with a mix of 80s hair metal, particularly when it comes to the guitar solo. This has all the markings of a Wednesday 13 song: loud music, lots of howls, and lyrics that talk about the dead and dying. While it’s not his strongest track it’s still a good representation of the album. “I Walked with a Zombie” is one of the more well known songs and has a bit of a different vibe. It sounds more like a pop-punk song with the various melodies and a clapping beat. There’s even a part where Wednesday sings “Whoa oh oh oh oh” like he’s in Poison. That’s not to say it makes the song bad; it’s definitely catchy and energetic.

Bad Things” takes influence from 80s glam metal as the singer wishes the most horrible things to happen to his enemy, while “House by the Cemetery” has more of a straight forward heavy metal sound. It mixes schlocky horror sounds like creepy laughter and creaking doors with aggressive and brutal riffs. These two songs are where Wednesday 13 shines. He perfectly mixes his horror-punk vibe in a way that doesn’t sound like he’s trying too hard. The same can’t be said about the track “Haunt Me.” It starts off on a promising note with the creepy carnival music and maniacal laughing. 13 sings in a hushed voice bringing a different style to his vocals that hasn’t been heard before. But the lyrics are too cheesy for their own good. It’s a love song that’s about meeting up on Halloween and being “scared to death.” It tries too hard to bring a creepy element to a love song.

The title track has the same problem. The opening verse sounds like it was written by a 15 year old goth “poet:” “My room came alive, my dog just died, stacked 13 pennies in his eyes/I stared at the wall, it stared back at me/Started to breath and then it started to bleed.” The creepy intent is there, but it doesn’t succeed. Again, it sounds like he’s trying too hard to be disturbing and depressing. Aside from that, the song is pretty weak in general. The lyrics are boring, the music is too slow, and it dulls you before the track is over.

One of the best songs on the LP is “Rot for Me.” Here, 13 returns to the hard rock sound that’s so infectious it lures you in. The way he snarls at the beginning of the hook is viscous, like he’s a dog ready to attack. It’s oddly catchy with its simple, repetitive riff of “Rot for me/my darling.” “I Want You Dead” is another strong track with an “I-hate-you-so-much-I-want-you-to-die” message. This track is full of high energy and speeding guitars that have a punk rock feel. “Buried by Christmas” is a curious entry. As I mentioned on a previous playlist, it’s a great Christmas song, but why does it have to be included on the album? It should’ve been released as a single or b-side. The way it is now it interrupts the flow of the record, unless you’re one of those people who like listening to Christmas songs all year round. Weirdo.

“Elect Death for President” mixes things up a bit in terms of music. It begins with a shuffling vibe similar to Rob Zombie’s “House of 1000 Corpses” before moving into a jazz sound that really throws you off. While it’s confusing at first, especially when the horns come in later, it oddly works with the song. The downside is the chorus, which sounds very similar to “Bad Things.” Though it’s one of the better songs on the album, it crosses the cheesy line once too many times. “The Ghost of Vincent Price” would make any classic horror fan proud. Featuring a creepy theremin, which was a staple in horror music, the singer makes several reference to the later actor’s movies, including House on Haunted Hill and House of Wax. While it’s far from the best track on the record, it’s still better than the closing track “A Bullet Named Christ,” which tries too hard to be gloomy and depressing.

The album was actually better than I thought. There are some strong tracks that will feed your wild, heavy metal side. There are even moments when 13 mixes his horror references with his music delightfully. But there are other times when it comes off as cheesy, forced, and over the top. Maybe this is the point, he is a fan of cheesy b-movies after all, but there are times when it’s too much to handle. Wednesday 13 has fine tuned his craft over the years, but his first solo outing predicted a promising career for the ghoul master.

Eminem Presents: The Anger Management Tour

EminemAngerManagementTourDVDCover2005Release Year: 2005

Rating: 6.5/10

This past summer, Eminem delivered on of the best sets of Lollapalooza or so I hear. Since his performance wasn’t broadcast, watching one of his concert DVD’s was the next best thing since I didn’t go to the festival. Or it would’ve been if the DVD wasn’t so mediocre. While the rapper sounds on point and has a strong setlist, the are several other issues that affect the release. It may have been a massive tour, but this is not be Em’s strongest performance.

Since the concert is a part of his tour for The Eminem Show the stage is setup like a carnival. There’s a Ferris wheel on stage, Em’s name is displayed in lights, and a giant mouth that gives you the fun house vibe. It’s a cool idea, but it quickly falls apart. Though several circus performers, like a sword swallower, contortionist, and a ringmaster appear on stage, they suddenly disappeared for five songs only to then come back for one and leave again. It was really distracting to see a juggler one second and then he’s gone the next. There’s even one point where the ringmaster tries to get the rapper involved in a magic trick. It’s okay, but even Eminem wasn’t enthusiastic about it. The theme was a good idea, but fails to stay consistent during the show. At least the poor stage set up didn’t take away from the songs.

A good thing about the show was it had a strong setlist. Featuring lots of tracks from his third album, performances included are “Superman,” “Without Me,” “The Way I Am,” “Drips,” and “Square Dance” to name a few. As expected, Eminem sounded really good and passionate while rapping. This is a welcome change because it seems like most rappers scream their lyrics when on stage instead of just letting them flow. The only issue came with backtrack usage. A lot of musicians do this, but what made it bad here was you could hear Eminem rapping on the backtrack. This caused the rapper to talk over himself, which made things disorienting. One big issue was how he didn’t finish most of the songs. On tracks like “Cleaning Out My Closet,” “Just Don’t Give A Fuck,” and “Stan” Em did one, maybe two verses and then moved on to the next song. I’m not really sure why this is especially since the songs aren’t really long. The only ones he finishes are the ones featuring D12. After taking a look at his Lollapalooza setlist, he did the same thing there. It’s possible he’s trying to squeeze so much in little time, but it’s still unsatisfying.

The highlights here were few and far between. One of the funniest moments was “Moby” flying over the stage calling the rapper a bad man resulting in him getting shot by Obie Trice. There’s also a point where Eminem moons the audience while D12 is rapping. During “Superman” Dina Rae sings with the rapper (if you want to call it singing) and there’s an awkward moment where they look like they’re dry humping. As Eminem mentions he was single at the time, so maybe he wanted to hook up with her. Things follow this pattern until the end, which was weird. For the final song, “My Dad’s Gone Crazy,” Eminem comes out and raps as usual, but mid-way through the shot turns into a gallery of photos from the tour. It comes on so abruptly it makes you think you accidentally hit the menu button. After the gallery, the credits roll. Keep in mind you can hear Eminem rapping the entire time. No send off from the rapper. No final look at the crowd. Just pictures. Who put this together and thought it was a good idea?

Overall, the disc gets 6.5/10. Even though Eminem sounded fine and the setlist was solid, the format was messy. There were too many camera angles that tried to captured every moment and failed. And since Eminem didn’t finish most of the songs he started, it leaves the audience disoriented and wanting more. The rapper has some other live DVD’s and hopefully those are better than this release. For now, just watch some one off performances by the rapper and don’t waste your time with this.

You Could Have it So Much Better – Franz Ferdinand

220px-BetterRelease Year: 2005

Rating: 8.5/10

Franz Ferdinand became one of the hottest bands in the alternative scene when their debut album dropped. While that was a phenomenal album, for their second effort they come back back with better songs and fresh music that finds them mixing it up in terms of their sound. The record is fun, upbeat, energetic, and full of songs that make you feel good. The record also finds them improving as musicians as the music bounces, flourishes, and jumps along the tracks.

Guitars ring out loud and true on the opening track “The Fallen.” It’s a great way to open the album, especially with the catchy melody found on both the riff and the chorus. Though the song is good, it makes way for the superb “Do You Want To.” For such a simple track, it still remains one of their best singles. They’re cheeky, cocky, and you can’t help but love it. The chorus is hands down the best part of the song; it’s something you always have to sing out loud whenever you hear it. With witty lines like “He’s a friend and he’s so proud of you/your famous friend well I blew him before you/oh yeah” make it seem like the track touches on the superficiality of fame and celebrity. Whatever it’s about, you can’t deny how catchy it is.

Like most of their albums, there are a bunch of great songs here. “I’m Your Villain” starts out with a bit of a groove as Alex Kapranos sings “I’m your villain” in a sinister manner. Just when you get used to the music, it abruptly switches the pace and turns fast, brash, and energetic. After the chorus, it reverts to the original beat and pace. If done poorly, the change in music would sound like a disjointed mess, but Franz Ferdinand somehow manage to pull it off and make it sound good. Another track that mashes two styles together is “Well That Was Easy.” When it starts off, the music comes rushing at you not leaving you a second to think about what you’re hearing. But when the second verse starts, the pace changes again making it slow and mellow. Again, they pull off the dynamic flawlessly.

The band has always played around with their sound and they do more of the same here. “Walk Away” has a psychedelic sound that makes it sound like something from The Yardbirds, while “Fade Together” has more of a folk and country sensibility, especially with the extensive twang of the guitars. “The Outsiders” takes influence from ’70s disco and early ’80s new wave. It sounds like a weird mix, but as soon as the upbeat music starts, you’ll be dancing before you know it. It’s one of those tracks that makes you feel good and gets you moving. The ’60s Beatles-esque influence comes back on “Eleanor Put Your Boots On” with the soothing vocals and laid back vibe and “Evil and a Heathen” has more of a rockabilly swing style to it, especially with how jaunty and bouncy the music sounds. All the different styles makes the album exciting and fresh, keeping the listener on their toes.

Part of what makes this album and most of their records so great is the music. On tracks like “This Boy” and “What You Meant” the music is upbeat and fun. The bounciness and driving rhythm of “You’re the Reason I’m Leaving” puts you in a good mood and makes you want to dance. All of them are full of energy and life. A great example is the title track. It has a great punk influence that’s full of energy along with an awesome hook that gets lodge in your brain. They make you feel good, even if the content isn’t that uplifting. Though there are some slow songs, for the most part the album moves at a good pace that leaves you bobbing along to each passing song. If anything, this record along with their others, show that the band has a knack for making great, fun music.

Overall, the album gets 8.5/10. While their debut effort is strong, this album is just as good. They manage to pull off some great hits that have gone on to be their best songs. Here, they also take influence from different genres mixing it up in terms of their music and sound. Even if the content is a little bleak, the music is fun and catchy and reminds you what a great band Franz Ferdinand are.