For starters, here’s what Devils Night isn’t: a new Eminem album (at least not technically). Here’s what it is: the first disc by the Detroit hip-hop posse in which the young Mr. Mathers was a member before he became a headline maker on his own. Now that he’s sold enough records to earn a vanity label, Eminem has rewarded his buds with a contract; he’s also produced parts of their debut and, as a more-or-less-official sixth member, tosses off a few verses here, a few choruses there.
If anyone thought adulation by the most boisterous teenagers in the country had changed Eminem — let’s not forget his olive-branch-waving stint with Elton John at this year’s Grammys — think again. Devils Night is neither reflective nor less hardened. It’s where Eminem throws his success in our faces; even though he’s only on roughly half of it, Devils Night affirms that he can make and release any kind of music he wants.
D12 — rappers Swift, Proof, Kuniva, Kon Artis, Bizarre, and Eminem — is short for ”dirty dozen” (each of the six men also has a pseudonym), and Devils Night never lets you forget the dirty part. Song after song is crammed with relentless, graphic imagery of the rappers pillaging the planet — assaulting men and women alike, beating up hookers (”Pimp Like Me”), engaging in the wild thing with and without the women’s consent. They see themselves as free-livin’, freewheelin’, free-snortin’, free-grabbin’ rebels, and their targets are both deadeningly predictable (Vanilla Ice, the media) and bizarre indeed (”gay rappers”?). Check out this line from ”Blow My Buzz”: ”It’s called the date-rape drug/Ten minutes you’ll be f — -ed up.” The kicker: ”Don’t call me Bizarre/I’m the Reverend Jesse Jackson.” On ”Fight Music,” Eminem attacks the ”Liberaces, Versaces, and you Nazis” who dare to criticize him. (Gee, wonder what sexual orientation he’s denouncing?) This isn’t Eminem throwing water on the fire; he’s tossing a propane tank on it.
The damaged psyche that ran rampant through Eminem’s two albums, particularly last year’s The Marshall Mathers LP, was often monstrous but undeniably compelling. Like him or not, you had to admire him for admitting to being the angriest latchkey kid in history. Here, though, he mostly recycles previous tirades, reminding us he’s an alternative to ”fake music” and that parents hate him even as their kids love him. He again takes digs at his mother (”Revelation”) and estranged wife (the grisly ”Pimp Like Me” ends with ”But I love you…Kim”). ”Ain’t Nuttin’ but Music” has a funny crack about ”Britney’s tit size,” but its digs at Justin Timberlake and ”Christina Gaga-lera” are rehash — as is the music, which reprises the horny bounce of ”The Real Slim Shady.” His savaging of Fred Durst, in the unlisted bonus track ”Girls,” is cutting (”Screaming about how people hate you…They just think you’re corny since Christina played you”). But a disturbingly messianic side emerges in tracks like ”Fight Music,” in which he claims ”I came to save these new generations of babies/From parents who failed to raise ’em cause they’re lazy.”
At least Eminem’s voice and rhyming skills remain among the most arresting in current pop. The same can’t be said of the other members of D12, who are proficient and barely distinctive. This mostly grueling, grim album jolts to life periodically. ”Ain’t Nuttin’ but Music” — one of several tracks produced by Dr. Dre — pumps along, and the pharmaceutical ode ”Purple Pills” has a slithery hook overseen by Eminem himself. Still, many of the songs and rhymes grind along joylessly. Devils Night is obsessed with ”shocking” us as much as possible, but years of this material, dating back at least a decade to the Geto Boys, have only numbed our senses. The album winds up doing what neither of Eminem’s albums managed: It makes sociopathic behavior seem dull.