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    Thu, 11 Nov 2004 13:32:30

    Album Reviews: Encore by Eminem

    There's something about listening to an Eminem album that's like watching an overpaid, showboating athlete -- even though his antics make you cringe, his talent is so undeniable that you can't help but cheer every slam dunk and circus catch. On Encore, Em does way more than his fair share of irritating endzone dances, and at times it's clear that he's just coasting on his freestyling abilities rather than bothering to compose smart lyrics. But despite all that, this is still one of the year's best hip-hop albums. As he boasts on "Big Weenie" to all the other pretenders to the rap throne, "You're just jealous of me, cuz you/You can't do what I do."

    What Eminem does, as most of the planet knows by now, is spit dazzlingly intricate rhymes with stream-of-consciousness abandon, stringing together boasts, jokes, disses, confessions and social commentary by turns scathing and silly. Even at his most infantile, as on the one-joke "My First Single," his flow is still mind-boggling, and amid all the belching sound effects and gratuitous obscenities he tucks away marvels of wordplay like, "Hickory dickory durk/Look at me work/Wizardry with these words/Am I a jerk?/Or just jerk chicken/Jerkin' your chain/Two jerks in a jerk circle/Or is it a circle jerk?"

    Granted, there are the usual missteps: dark humor that crosses the line (calling out Christopher Reeve on "Rain Man" being the most obvious example), yet another kiss-off to ex-wife Kim (the truly unnecessary "Puke"), a subpar D12 showcase ("One Shot 2 Shot"). And there are no true knockout punches like "Cleanin' Out My Closet" or "Stan." Em is more interested in self-parody here than he is in self-examination -- though as he himself points out on "Evil Deeds," he's gotten so huge now that it's hard to take his forays into grief and self-doubt very seriously.

    But forget what Encore isn't and enjoy what it is -- another entertaining, offensive and funny high-wire act from the most original voice in hip-hop, bolstered by some of Eminem and Dr. Dre's best production work to date. - Andy Hermann

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