I had been putting off writing this particular review mostly because at the time I needed to focus my attention on developing my working knowledge of the Spanish language in a summer class. But more than anything, I did actually make several attempts to write this review, but none of the finished products were to my liking. So, I decided that rather than editing down bad reviews, I’d start fresh again, much like what Eminem did with Relapse/Recovery. What I find interesting about these two albums is that when I think back to how much I liked them when they first came out and what I think of them now, it gets me to question my own method of critiquing. What I mean is how fresh and inspiring these albums sounded when they first came out, but today when I listen to them, those feelings are long gone and now I’m left with just…songs. Not that they’re outright mediocre, it’s just that their longevity has nothing on Em’s early millennia albums.
Obviously, I’m not going to count The Re-Up as an official Eminem release because it’s more of a haphazard compilation of Em and his friends goofing off in the studio while he was stoned cold on pharmaceuticals. I doubt he even remembers assembling it, much less drawing the cover art. Some pertinent backstory: after Encore, Em decided to retire the Slim Shady persona, and released Curtain Call: The Hits shortly afterward as a retrospective swan song of sorts. During this time, he was addicted to every pill from Ambien (which he was introduced to on the set of 8 Mile), Valium, and everyone’s favorite abused pharmaceutical, Vicodin. For the five years Eminem fell of the face of the earth, he struggled with waning success, alarming weight gain, an increasingly stronger taste for drugs, and the harshest blow of all: losing his best friend, Proof, in a nightclub fight where he was fatally shot in 2006. Likewise with any addict, Em’s depression sent him spiraling into overdose after overdose until finally he got sober in 2008, and hit the studios with longtime friend/mentor/producer-in-crime, Dr. Dre. The outpour of material Em had come up with warranted a double album. However, it wasn’t released that way. When it came time to assemble the tracks for what was “Relapse 2,” he realized it could be better, so he holed up in the studio again, but with varying producers in an attempt to prove he could be even more marketable and accessible than he ever was. And to add that final twist, Em announced on his Twitter page that, “There is no Relapse 2.” This cryptic message ultimately meant that the album title would be Recovery, to fit better with the overall theme of the songs. All in all, these two albums mark the beginning of a new era for Eminem, as he tries to prove to the world that he has retained his remarkable talent for rapping, and gained new skills in the process. This review is meant to discuss Eminem’s relevance in a new decade where the game’s players have changed dramatically, as well as rap itself, and also to question whether his newfound sobriety makes him less of the rapper he once was.
Structurally, Relapse is far more consistent in its production, sound and themes. The best way to think of these two albums is to compare them to The Slim Shady LP (1999) and The Marshall Mathers LP (2000). Relapse is essentially the album that marks the return of Slim Shady, while Recovery is the return of Eminem, just like how Slim Shady introduced us all to the mischievous character, while Marshall Mathers gave us an introspective view into Eminem’s true thoughts. The same holds true to Relapse and Recovery.
On the whole, Relapse and Recovery are worlds apart as far as content and even sound is concerned. For one thing, Relapse finds Eminem on comfortable and familiar ground with producer Dr. Dre handling most all of the production work. On “Beautiful,” Eminem takes center stage again like he did in his days of The Eminem Show, and “Déjà vu,” clues us in on what happened the night he overdosed. And like The Eminem Show, he confesses past struggles and emotions towards aspects of himself that he despised and would rather forget. Clichés aside, it is an emotionally heavy track in an island by itself with far less serious and more gruesome comical tunes.
I’ve found that fans and critics alike have criticized Em for adopting an indiscernible accent on Relapse, but what they have to understand is that is not necessarily Eminem rapping on Relapse. Isn’t that what drew us to the charisma of Slim Shady in the first place? This idea of an uber depraved alter ego whose arch-solipsism was terrifying with black comedy overtones that were actually funny? On Relapse, Slim Shady is funny in a very different fashion. For instance, in songs like “Brain Damage,” we have relatable revenge fantasies acting as the vehicle for his appeal, but on tracks like “3 a.m.,” and “Insane,” we have murder and rape fantasies that aren’t relatable at all, nor are they terribly funny, but at least Em is mustering every effort he has to make the rhythms of his words co-exist nicely with the beat. My personal favorite track that displays this trait would be “Stay Wide Awake,” where Slim Shady raps with a sardonic smile, “I see my target put my car in park and approach a tender/ young girl by the name of Brenda and I pretend to befriend her/ sit down beside her like a spider hi there girl you might’a/ heard of me before see whore you’re the kinda girl that I’d a/ ssault and rape and figure why not try to make your pussy wider/ fuck you with an umbrella then open it up while the shit’s inside ya.” Sure, rape isn’t the funniest topic, but given its immense emotional gravity, it would only make sense for someone like Eminem/Slim Shady to try to put a comical spin on it. To put it in perspective, compared to the recent remarks of Rep. Todd Akin regarding legitimate rape, Slim Shady’s views seem more sensible.
What can really bog this album down is the length. At just over 76 minutes, you begin to realize that this sounds suspiciously close to an Insane Clown Posse album. I consider that hilarious when the Marshall Mathers title track rips them mercilessly. It is one of Em’s longest albums, but somehow feels longer because of him wanting to cram in every spit and insult he recorded. So obviously it’s not on the same level as Marshall Mathers, Eminem Show and definitely not Slim Shady, but at least it doesn’t have the same amount of blatant and subpar filler tracks of Encore.
But never fear, if you don’t care for endless murder fantasies with standard and frankly, lazy, Dr. Dre production, by golly, Recovery is for you. I found that critics were pretty evenly divided with this album, and really, their opposing claims were both right. If I had to sum up the scope of all of their valid arguments, I’d say the following: it was okay. To be more specific, I just had to laugh over how enthusiastic and consistent they were about Eminem’s new sound, but off to the side, and sheepishly, they also said: maybe his rapping is a little past his time. Ouch.
Unfortunately this holds true, but optimistically speaking, it is by no means an outright terrible Eminem album. Even though Eminem is practically using puns and asides as crutches, he eventually wins his own race to convince himself he’s back on his prime. Seriously, I have never heard him spit so much in what seems like a unnecessarily harried pace. I suspect he knows amazing breathing techniques so he can pull this off at live shows. In “Talking 2 Myself,” he acknowledges that he feels guilt for becoming a suicidally depressed pharmaceutical addict who did next to nothing for the past five years. And in the tracks to come, we are bludgeoned with that aspect of making up for lost time.
The first quarter of the album kicks off well enough, but starts its path to monotony with, “W.T.P.,” where he actually does a pretty accurate mimic of Insane Clown Posse. Going back to “Talking 2 Myself,” we are presented with a good idea of some of the lows he experienced, but is magnified with “Going Through Changes,” which if it didn’t have that sappily utilized Black Sabbath sample as the main beat, would actually have a wrenching impact. Then what dignity that song had vanishes with lead single, “Not Afraid,” possibly one of the worst rap songs I’ve heard. Horrible beat courtesy of Boi1da, and has the gall to diss Relapse, which ironically has more fun and sincere pride to it. Every claim he’s not only back, but even better than ever starts to become your typical alpha-dog rapper boast. I almost have to laugh in the following tracks like “Seduction,” where he rapid-fire spits one syllable raps and complicated rhyme schemes that are more dizzying than awe-inspiring. “No Love” employs Haddaway’s “What Is Love?” as the basis for the entire song, and having Lil Wayne as a guest in this song makes you realize just how similar his and Em’s rapping styles are. Which leads me to ask, is Eminem content with using corny humor for the rest of his career, just like every other rapper out there?
It gets worse: the music to songs like “Space Bound” (god, that awful fucking chorus…), “25 to Life” (god, that awful fucking intro and chorus………………..the whole fucking thing’s just terrible), and “Love the Way You Lie,” (which rehashes the content of “25 to Life” with the sappiest beat in history) sound like they belong on a Drake album. No, scratch that. I wouldn’t wish these tunes on any rapper, much less Drake. What scared the shit out of me is when DJ Khalil, the producer for “Lie” did “I Need a Doctor” for Dr. Dre, and seemed like it might be on the legendary still-unreleased Detox. Listen to the two back to back and see how DJ Khalil plagiarizes himself with the same hokey emo music. But all three of these songs on Recovery see Eminem get in touch with his romantic side, even if he’s threatening to kill his mate if she plans to leave him. This probably has something to do with how he remarried Kim in 2006, and lasted for about a year before they realized they could never truly be together. Oh, and “Cinderella Man,” has no discernable purpose so you can definitely skip it. Even the only Dre track on here, “So Bad,” just adds to sinking feelings about inconsistency.
It all comes together with “You’re Never Over,” where Em summons his rap powers to provide a summary of what the album was about, that is if you forgot the first million times. For all the inspiration we could find in this song, Em is STILL using corny metaphors to drive his rapping, “Excuse the corny metaphor/ But they'll never catch up to all this energy that I've mustered.” To its credit, the music isn’t that bad, and you have to admire saving Proof’s tribute for the climactic track. Its this song that brings you up from the miles of muck and reminds you that Recovery is a good album, but only if he had a diligent and stern editor. The idea behind “You’re Never Over,” confirms that Em is going keep at his rap game until he dies for real. So regardless of whether he’s still going to keep going on this mediocre path to recovery (even the album cover screams generic), we’ll just have to grit our teeth and bear with it. Hopefully, he’ll realize that his rapping works best with storytelling. But I’m not betting on it.
Relapse definitely. Recovery was only interesting during the summer it was released, but hopefully Eminem will release another album some time within a year so that maybe he can redeem himself yet again and prove he can be diverse and engagingly cinematic. My advice to Em would to be glad that he got the chance to work with other producers for a change, but recruit the Bass Brothers and his D12 cronies for a more consistent and endearingly dirty rap album. Heh, maybe next time around he’ll even diss Recovery for being sappy, calculated and stunningly corny. Nah, I wouldn’t bet on that either.
Overall Impression: 7
Overall Impression: 6
Remaining Eminem albums ranked:
1. The Marshall Mathers LP (89%)
Overall Impression: 9
2. The Slim Shady LP (85%)
Overall Impression: 9
3. The Eminem Show (83%)
Overall Impression: 8
4. Relapse (71%)
5. Encore (63%)
Overall Impression: 6
6. Infinite/The Slim Shady EP (59%)
Overall Impression: 6