“I guess it’s time for you to hate me again” echoes the chorus of a new Eminem track. He might be five years removed from the music scene but Eminem still knows how the world feels about him. Love or loathe him, he put on one hell of a show in his first five years as the media’s mercurial enemy. Five platinum albums in his first five years on the scene caused him to go from an underground anomaly to the next Elvis — if Elvis swore like a sailor and rapped. He was on top of the world, but the pressures of being king got to him, and he disappeared to some Detroit suburb for five years to deal with his problems. He lost partners, family and friends and it caused him to spiral into a drug problem. Painkillers and sleeping pills became more important than anything else, and the names Eminem, Slim Shady and Marshall Mathers have disappeared over the past couple years. Well, in his own words “Guess who’s back?”
As the “Relapse” title suggests, Shady is addicted again. The painkillers might still be gone, but he has had a full blown relapse with rap. Reunited with his mentor and producer, the legendary Dr. Dre, Eminem and all of his personalities and accents have made this 20 track comeback album. But how good is it? Last time around, “Encore” was technically proficient, but it lacked the raw emotions that made his other albums classic. His greatness lies in incorporating his harsh emotions, as well as being an overwhelming wordsmith, and “Encore” was great on paper, but something felt off. He didn’t seem devoted to it as he was in his other works.
Relapse kicks off with the skit “Dr. West” which sets the tone for the album and tells the world what Em was going through. His personal demons will be with him forever, he’s an addict and he’s finally able to admit it. But don’t get him wrong; getting clean doesn’t mean he will become clean. The album truly starts with “3am” a song about committing murders under the influence, then waking up to the aftermath. The album goes on with these familiar themes of murder, serial killers and drug abuse. They have become commonplace in his albums, and have lost a bit of their shock value. However, that doesn’t stop him from being as proficient as ever on the mic. His skills haven’t faded, but he did stay in his comfort zone with a lot of the subject matter.
Another classic topic of his “" celebrities “" pops its head up several times in each song. This album’s first single, “We Made You” is probably the weakest track. He spits out insults like venom, but he switches in and out too quickly, never driving home the offenses. It is five years of pop culture to be ragged on slammed into four minutes and it’s just too crowded. However, it is the perfect single because of the chorus. As a female belts out “You’re a rockstar/Everybody wants you/Playa, Who could really blame you?/ We’re the ones who made you” you can’t help but get the tune caught in your head. It might lack any real substance, but it’s certainly an earworm. For culture-based diss tracks, the Arabian themed “Bagpipes over Baghdad” and the offensive “Medicine Ball” do a much better job at conveying the sarcasm and anger that made him famous in the first place. “Medicine Ball” also puts in lyrics something that he has said in interviews many times: Christopher Reeves’ name just happens to rhyme with a lot of stuff, and Em is actually a fan. Add it to the list of unfortunate things for the late, great actor.
The album is filled with a bunch of gems, but does feel a bit disjointed. It starts off very dark, even compared to his old stuff, and then makes its way to some pop-fueled insult tracks. After those, he reunites with Dr. Dre and throws us a couple fun party songs with “Old Times’ Sake” and “Must be the Ganja.” They aren’t anything to write home about, but they are certainly reminiscent of his older, simpler albums. It sounded like they had fun recording these, and that’s something that “Encore” never had.
The record then takes a sharp left turn as Eminem fades away, leaving Marshall to tell his story of the past five years. No talk of serial killing celebrities or smoking with rap superstars in these songs. “Dƒ©jƒ Vu” is about his troubles with drugs and hiding it from his family. Revealing his soul works, creating the best track on “Relapse.” It’s simple, showcasing his skill, while remaining very personal.
“Beautiful” the next track, is even further from his norms, presenting us with almost a hip hop version of the power ballad. Written in the middle of his drug habit, the song shows how he felt during his addiction. It comes off a bit defensive, and shares a few themes with some other works, but is very genuine. He sounds lost and sad. These aren’t things we normally hear from the crazed, comical man he normally is. It certainly is a sobering track, which reminds us that most clowns are closer to Pagliacci than Bozo.
The closing track, “Underground” certainly showcases the album’s wonderful production. The song is essentially just Em reminding us that he’s here to stay. However, the Gothic-style chorus, combined with the thunderous beats and accentuated with the sounds of actual thunder turn a fairly basic, forgettable song into an epic closing track.
It took a while, but this album surpassed expectations. More passionate than “Encore,” his talent shines through as well as his personal journey. This album marks his return, and word is that he is hitting the ground running. He will be performing at the MTV Movie Awards on May 31 and later this year “Relapse 2″ will be hitting the shelves. After that, there is a record lined up for 2010, and I’m sure he will have more than a few guest spots on Dr. Dre’s long-awaited “Detox” album.
Five years later, and the serial-killing Slim Shady, the fun-loving Eminem and the down-to-earth Marshall Mathers all return, better than when they left. “Relapse” isn’t as good as his first couple efforts, but it’s certainly a strong album. It’s a good mix of familiar themes and personal exposition. A couple people have harped on him for rapping about the same stuff, but I can’t fault him if he can still keep it interesting. I know he’s once again going to the well of his bad childhood, living as celebrity, popping pills and going insane, and brutal violence, but what else do you want him to sing about? He might have gotten older, cleaned up his life, moved out of the projects, but he’s still an angry man at heart. But go on and hate him. Call him washed up and say that he’s clinging to his older works. Say whatever you want. It’s just fuel to his fire, and if you’re lucky, there will be a song about you on his next album.