Over the last couple days, three of my most anticipated albums of the year were released. Here are my thoughts on them.
Eminem: “The Marshall Mathers LP 2” (Shady/Aftermath) If Eminem’s first decent album since his return from hiatus has one major strength, it’s that he’s not leaning too much in a single direction.
“Relapse” was his attempt to come back strong, and what resulted was an album without subtlety.
“Recovery,” meanwhile, showed him responding to the poor reception of his comeback with a more personal album that wound up being incredibly boring. If this one’s title means he’s been looking to his greatest LP for reference, then great, because the music here has variety, it flows and it’s anything but boring. With samples from The Zombies and Joe Walsh, hooks sung by awful singers (Skylar Grey,
Nate Ruess) and, on the best track, a Kendrick Lamar guest verse, this is as true an Eminem album as can be expected. If it were funnier, it might have been a great one. Grade: B
Lady Gaga: “Artpop” (Interscope) Disco beats and dubstep breakdowns galore, this initially seems like an extremely fun, and yet lyrically problematic, album. Then it becomes clear that it’s almost as long as “Born This Way,” with a less impressive song selection, and that’s before it even dawns on you how problematic the lyrics really are. With references to burqas, thin models puking on the runaway and loving the gypsy life, I can’t help but wonder if Gaga will ever stop trying so hard to provoke and once again become as enjoyably edgy as she was on “The Fame.” On the bright side, it didn’t take Madonna three fantastic albums to get to a merely good one. Grade: B PLUS
M.I.A.: “Mantagi” (Interscope) If you trusted the reviewers who turned “Maya” into the most underrated album of 2010, don’t make the same mistake with the ones who are turning this into the most underrated album of 2013. I wish those who actually believe that “Paper Planes” defines her would at least give this the benefit of the doubt – after all, it has “Bad Girls.” But a good number of the people who hated “Maya” misread its rough sound as an insult to her fans, and she certainly hasn’t toned it down here. “Bad Girls” aside, my favorite moments are “atTENTion” – a song that’s extreme use of “tent” has been described as grating, when really it’s hilarious – and “Y.A.L.A.,” where her response to the YOLO craze proves more entertaining and insightful than nearly anyone else’s. Grade: A