Here’s where all artists who reach Eminem’s height eventually go. These are the songs we all know, the songs we’re all sick of, and the songs that made Eminem what he is today. But for an artist who has steadily evolved over four records, his singles have stayed relatively static over the years: Every album has its lead pop single, its emotional follow-up about having feelings, and the darker, shocking track. So even though these songs aren’t presented chronologically, it all sounds pretty cohesive. Does it really matter whether “My Name Is,” “Without Me,” or “The Real Slim Shady” comes first?
Not all of Eminem’s catalogue can be divided into singles and songs that matter, of course. “Stan,” which is included in two versions – the studio version and the superfluous and terrible live version with Elton John – is still a chilling masterpiece, and probably the best song Eminem ever did. “Lose Yourself,” too, excels despite its ubiquitous presence; if they had wanted to put a live bonus track, why not the shockingly good performance of this with the Roots backing him up, probably the best Grammy performance I’ve ever seen? Among the other actually good tracks included are “Cleaning Out My Closet” and “Like Toy Soldiers,” one of the few decent tracks from last year’s Encore. Not surprisingly, the overtly political “Mosh” is not included; it has been replaced by the embarrassingly saccharine “Mockingbird.”
The new songs are all pretty terrible, which should make us all pretty happy that Eminem is taking a break. “Fack” is a horrible, unfunny song about being on the verge of an orgasm, perplexingly stuck at the front of the track order. “Shake That” is almost redeemed by Nate Dogg, but the beat is so boring I can’t imagine anyone shaking anything to it, much less “that.” “When I’m Gone” is the single (and it’s an obvious reference to the retirement rumors), but it’s in the same vein as “Mockingbird,” even if it’s somewhat more successful. After every album, people have asked what Eminem can do next. After a confused album and a greatest hits filled with songs he doesn’t care about, it seems like he no longer has an answer.
So what do you do with a bunch of songs even the artist doesn’t care about? I don’t need to tell anyone what they think about Eminem, and if you care at all about music you either own Eminem records or you don’t; few people were waiting for the singles collection to survey his brilliance. So this is a collection for the malls, the people who don’t want “Kim” and “Kill You” and “Rock Bottom,” the people who see an Eminem best-of and think, Wow, all the songs on Kiss FM, finally, together in one collection. With all the critical backlash from his last record, Eminem, still one of the best rappers around, has lost a great deal of respect in the hip-hop community. People seem to be forgetting that he has enormous skill as an emcee, skill that has only gotten stronger. Curtain Call is not going to remind them of that skill. It will, however, sell a million copies before next Christmas, and isn’t that what these songs were about in the first place?