Eminem; “Relapse”

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So – Eminem’s Relapse.  You already know how much I hated lead single “We Made You,” but what about the rest of the album?  Is it a work of twisted genius like his groundbreaking first three albums?  Or is it all as poorly written and insultingly low-brow as “We Made You”?  Find out which (hint: neither) after the jump!

Relapse

We haven’t heard much from Eminem in the nearly five years since his fourth album Encore, for a number of reasons.  For one thing, people hated Encore.  Then his best friend Proof got shot.  That didn’t make him happy, so he decided to get crazy-addicted to pills.  That didn’t turn out to be very good idea, so he had to go to rehab.  Now he finally comes out with album #5, called Relapse.

One of the major complaints people had with Encore was the dearth of Slim Shady appearances in the lyrics.  Well, Eminem set out to quell those complaints with this album, and he completely misfired.  Relapse is a very dark record, discussing at length Eminem’s addiction, rehabilitation, and fictional relapse, along with lots of other violent scenarios.  But this is a superficial darkness.  The brilliance of Eminem’s early LPs was how he sang about dark and twisted things in a way that blurred the line between reality and fiction, where a song like “Kim” was genuinely scary because, even though the song’s narrative never happened, the emotions behind it had to have come from some place very real.  The line between Slim Shady, Eminem, and Marshall Mathers was indecipherable, and the music was the better for it.

Eminem raps about murder all over this record, but it’s not the same as when he rapped about murdering his ex-wife.  He has officially turned the Slim Shady persona into spoof.  It is no longer the unhinged release of all of Eminem’s darkest thoughts.  It is a ridiculously over-the-top super villain.  He tries to confuse us over how many drugs he does and whether or not he’s relapsed, but we know he hasn’t.  We know exactly what is real and what isn’t.  The only time the rapper actually manages to surprise us with these references and get us to understand where he was the past four years is on the standout track “Déjà Vu,” devoted entirely to his drug addiction, in which he admits (although it’s unclear if he’s serious, which is actually a good thing) that when he was rushed to the hospital last January for “the pneumonia thing/It was bolognya, was it the methadone, ya think?”

As for the other subject, murder, he devotes an entire song to that too, the single “3 a.m.”  But the murder fantasies on Relapse have no root in reality.  Their only connection to Eminem’s psyche is in how hard he’s trying to please those fans who wanted Slim Shady back.  The entire track is tiresome and numbingly violent, and frankly, it’s no better than any amateur slasher film, as the music video makes abundantly clear.  So while both Eminem’s addiction to pills and to murder make way too many appearances on this record and are no substitute for the disturbing and brilliant lyrics he embraced on his first two albums, at the very least his pill addiction is real.  These murder fantasies are completely fabricated and completely fail to stimulate.* (Also dismaying are the nonstop references to horror movies that come with them.)

But while thematically the album is a disappointment, Eminem does occasionally tap into something great.  “My Mom” has nothing shocking in it (how many times have we been down this road anyway?), but the energy Eminem brings makes it a winner.  “Old Time’s Sake,” despite containing some of the pitfalls outlined earlier, is an otherwise awesome track featuring Dr. Dre, and is by far the most fun song on the record.  “Beautiful” has great verses that see Eminem tapping into something deeper than what we get on the rest of the album.  Sadly, it is marred a bit by its trite “walk-in-my-shoes” chorus.  And the final track, “Underground,” while rarely straying from the same motifs as the rest of the record, has an edge to it that most of Relapse lacks.  Also noteworthy are the fantastic bonus tracks, and it’s worth going out of your way to find a version of the CD that includes them.  (Anyone who buys the physical album can download “My Darling” for free online, but you’ll have to find the deluxe version to get “Careful What You Wish For.”)

But this does not make up for the abysmal singles “Crack a Bottle” and “We Made You,” or other stinkers like “Insane,” which is about Eminem getting raped as a child (something tells me we’d have been hearing about this since the Slim Shady LP if it was actually true and not just a sad attempt to provoke), or “Hello.”  Meanwhile, “Same Song and Dance” might be the worst song, if only for having absolutely no redeeming value.  (Even “Crack a Bottle” has Dre’s verse, which is decent.)  It has awful lyrics, an awful hook, and the least memorable beat on the record.

Now, it’s well-known that Eminem and Dr. Dre went overboard in the studio and recorded two albums of material, and Relapse 2 will come out probably sometime later this year.  But one can only hope that Eminem didn’t record two full albums of songs about drug abuse and murder, and that he split them up thematically, so Relapse 2 will be about something else.  (A theme it may well run into the ground as well, but at least it will be different.)

This is not an awful record, and the majority (albeit a slim one) of what’s collected here is decent-to-really good.  But ultimately what we have is Eminem’s least honest album yet.  Say what you will about Encore, but at least he wasn’t faking the emotions on that record.  He spends way too much time rapping about superficial murders for anything else here to really connect, except for when he completely ignores the Slim Shady persona.

G - 3 Raheems

(It’s the return of the – “Oh wait, no wait, you’re kidding.  He didn’t just use Radio Raheem to grade me, did he?”)

Choice Tracks: “My Mom,” “Old Time’s Sake (ft. Dr. Dre),” “Déjà Vu,” “Beautiful” and “My Darling” (bonus track)

*I don’t mean that Eminem should go about killing people to validate his lyrics, but if he’s gonna sing about murder, it had better come from a real, deep, disturbing place within him and not feel like a desperate-to-please gimmick.

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