Thursday, May 28, 2009

Review: Eminem - Relapse

Rating: 4.5
Released: May 19, 2009
Aftermath, Interscope, Shady

The cover of Eminem's vaunted comeback album has a photo illustration of Shady made out of pills and a fake prescription label in the lower corner.

That's all you need to know about the once great Slim Shady's latest self-flagellating, narcotic opus, subtly titled Relapse.

Em's appetite for pills has been well-documented in his decade-long career, thanks to his fiendishly virtuosic turn on 2000's The Marshall Mathers LP, a hip hop classic by all accounts.

Two years later, he set the bar for comeback singles when he dropped "Without Me," arguably one of the most devilishly produced call-to-arms you could get out of a non-political artist.

But he's dropped off the map in recent years, making more headlines for his perceived eating habits and drug problems than his rhymes.

Record buyers' taste in pop stars is notoriously fickle. Here today, gone tomorrow. If so, that doesn't bode well for Shady, who hasn't had an LP since 2004's limp-wristed Encore.

Nevermind that.

The American public's appetite for Em has apparently not waned, based on the 600,000 or so buyers gobbling up copies of Relapse in the first week, making it the fastest-selling album so far in 2009.

Truthfully, that's no major feat since he's among the first of the heavyweights to really clock in this year, but his success has to come as some sort of a surprise.

More surprising still might be his eagerness to get back to work.

Encore was, above all things, a tired effort from a tired artist. The put-downs sounded oddly manufactured, and the choruses, always Em's forte, were forgettable.

Flash forward five years and Shady hasn't improved that much, but he at least seems to be trying harder.

He's still making fun of mile-wide targets like Sarah Palin and Kim Kardashian, he still hates his mother, and he still wants us to believe that he'll say anything, anytime.

First single "We Made You" is dreadful in its nursery rhyme beat, produced under Dr. Dre's watchful eye, and its business-as-usual verses.

Does anyone really need to hear more jabs at Jessica Simpson? Really?

Predictably darker second single "3 a.m." fares a little better, although Shady's mock Jamaican accent is troubling at best. More troubling? The embarassing off-kilter accent makes a victory lap in several Relapse tracks.

"It's 3 a.m. in the morning, put my key in the door/bodies laying all over the floor/ I don't remember how they got there but I guess I must of killed them," he spits on "3 a.m."

Ensuing rhymes about masturbating to Hannah Montana are sure to offend whoever it is that still gets offended by this guy.

The album tracks are stronger than the dud singles here, a switch from any previous Em album.

The slick, horn-driven beat of "My Mom" is a cure-all for the routine rhythms of "Hello" and "Medicine Ball."

"I know you're probably tired of hearing about my mom," he raps on the former, the closest you're going to get to an apology from Em for his redundant subject matter.

"Insane" employs a skittish, horror-movie soundtrack to make a chilling manifesto for Shady's loose screws, if you can bear accounts of anal rape.

Although c'mon, if you bought an Eminem album in the first place, that's probably not going to bother you too much.

Later tracks like "Crack A Bottle" bring the star power courtesty of 50 Cent and Dre himself, but by then, it's too late for the Shady one.

The verdict? Relapse is a step up, but it's still a throwaway from a once indispensable artist.

- SoR

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