Saturday, September 11, 2010

Eminem recovers nicely on Relapse followup

Genre: Rap
Aftermath Records
Running Time: 77:06

In the late 90s and early 2000s, Eminem released some of rap's greatest albums. The Slim Shady LP and the Eminem Show were startling displays of Em's lyric writing, and his mastery of rhyme and flow. But it was his 2000 album, Marshall Mathers LP, and all the controversy surrounding it that lifted Mathers to superstardom.

Which is why it was no surprise that when the rapper made his comeback with 2009's Relapse album that there was a lot of buzz. In the opinions of many, he fell far short of the mark. Which is part of what makes Recovery so interesting. Just when it looked like Mathers was done, he returns with a remarkable return to form that is sure to shush the critics.

One of the great things about Recovery is that Mathers has regained his old form in terms of rhythm, flow, and delivery. The tacky accents that marred Relapse are gone. Even better, he's ditched a lot of old topics he discussed on previous albums.

No more Kim, no more drama with his mom, no Ken Kaniff, and no more cussouts from Steve Berman. It's great to see him try to move on because those were subjects that were honestly run into the ground.

So, you may wonder, if Mr. Mathers isn't discussing his family issues, etc., then what exactly does he rap about? Well, that's kind of the kicker. He doesn't have all that much to say. Some of his most interesting material sees him discussing the turmoil he was going through while he was trying to ditch drugs. On "Talking To Myself," Em reveals that he considered recording diss tracks against Lil Wayne and Kanye West.

He also admits that his last two albums, Recovery and 2004's Encore, weren't that great.

Outside that, a lot of his subject matter revolves around - what else? Women. Either he's banging your girlfriend or he's being ditched by one. In some respects it's interesting, because he talks about relationships on this album in a way that he hasn't done since his debut, Infinite.

But there are a long run of tracks where he gets a little too into the melodrama of bad relationships. Save it, Em. I have a feeling I'll get plenty of that when I review the Taylor Swift CD.

Eminem's lyric writing skills just aren't what they used to be. Some of them are just downright corny. On "Not Afraid," he says he's going to go into a club and lift up the liquor stand because he's "raising the bar." Get it? It's a steep decline for the man who used to stand out like an orange hat with a green bill. Also, he talks about dicks a lot.

There are a couple of other things he does on this album I find interesting. First, his voice sounds a little different on this album. It's like they pumped his vocals up a little too much in the mix. Not a huge deal, but it would have been better if they'd toned it down a little in production.

I haven't heard Em use samples of other songs very often, but he does it on a couple of tracks here to varying degrees of success. On "Going Through Changes," he samples Black Sabbath's "Changes." I don't think it works to well; Ozzy's voice sounds totally out of place on a rap song. However, on "No Love," he uses a sample of Haddaway's "Don't Hurt Me" to summon his inner mojo. It's very effective at giving the track a club feel without being tacky.

Other highlights include "Cold Wind Blows," which may be the album's best song, with its sing-along chorus. "Won't Back Down" has a clunky but infectious beat with loud drums. On "Almost Famous," he waves a Pittsburgh Steelers Terrible Towel while name dropping Austin Powers and Verne Troyer, and other pop culture references.

"No Love" features Lil Wayne's southern drawl on full display. But the real stunner is Rihanna's performance on "Love the Way You Lie." The R&B/pop starlet brings the house down, while Em tales a tale of domestic violence. Overall, it's Em's most real and visceral album since The Eminem Show. It has some flaws, but it certainly is a solid addition to his catalog.

Score: 82/100

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