Once, about 6,000 years ago, Eminem sounded genuinely playful: “I’m interesting! The best thing since wrestling!” he proclaimed brightly. Today, gaunt and mean-eyed and forever so fist-clenchingly serious that he seems on the verge of squinting himself into a black hole, Marshall Mathers senses, maybe, that he’s not that interesting anymore. “Walk on Water” is his latest joyless trudge of a power ballad that pairs a softly crooned hook with fuming, escalating verses of rage-spittle—a formula he’s followed dutifully since 2010’s “Love the Way You Lie” gave him new life on the charts. Tellingly, he spends nearly every one of this song’s 304 seconds fretting aloud about his own obsolescence.
The big news this time around is that the crooned hook is offered by Beyoncé, a strangely regressive role for the biggest pop star on the planet. Nonetheless, she executes it with her typical feather-light touch and superhuman poise, her singing trembling expertly at the border between head and chest voice. The track, produced by Rick Rubin, sounds made for a commercial, a noncommittal gloop of grand piano and strings with no beat.
It’s an appropriately blank canvas for Mathers to scribble on, and he blots out every inch of white space with his chains of logorrhea. As usual, it sounds impressive on the surface, but a closer look reveals wording either leaden (“It’s the curse of the standard that the first of the Mathers discs set”) or nonsensical (“pressure increases like khakis”). Once, Eminem rhymed with such audible joy that it almost excused his puerility. Now, rapping sounds almost unendurable to him, even though he doesn’t know how to stop—in the last 10 seconds, after Beyoncé gracefully bows out, he can’t help butting back in to remind us: “Bitch, I wrote ‘Stan’!” Yeah, Marshall. We remember.
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