May 25, 2009
Album Review: Eminem - 'Relapse'
Shady’s back – but the tired retreads and schlock horror make it a joyless return
5 / 10
He created a monster, and just like in all the best B-movie horror flicks, the monster came back to destroy him. Five albums spent channelling the pill-guzzling psycho Slim Shady left his creator, Marshall Mathers in the grip of drug dependency, crapping out of his European tour to promote 2004’s tired ‘Encore’ and checking into rehab to shake an addiction to prescription pills. For a bit, that looked like it for Eminem.
Pictured in the press, he looked withdrawn, overweight, eyes sunken. Interviewed on New York rap station Hot 97, he admitted he was “in limbo” – creatively stagnant, washed up. But Mathers has always specialised in reworking his life into art. Five years on, then, we have ‘Relapse’. As the title suggests, it’s an album about kicking drugs, then falling off the wagon… and falling off hard.
The story is that this is a return to form, born out of a two-day recording stint with old mentor Dr Dre that spun out into six months of frenzied creation. The early signs, though, are bad. Lead-off single ‘We Made You’ is drab and formulaic, still under the apprehension that drug reference plus fart noises multiplied by threat to murder celebrity makes you a hilarious pop-cultural terrorist, while it actually makes you an 18-certificate “Weird Al” Yankovic.
The first couple of tracks of ‘Relapse’ do little to shake that feeling of retread. On ‘3am’, he admits to being “a hooligan who’s used to using hallucinogens”, wakes up surrounded by dead bodies and masturbates to Hannah Montana. Then ‘My Mom’ kicks off with the line “My mom, my mom, you’re probably tired of hearing about my mom…” and you’re thinking: well, yes, I am actually.
But then… it gets nasty. ‘Insane’, for instance. Genuinely stomach-churning, it commences with Eminem being raped by his stepfather – “Can’t we just play [url="http:///www.teddyruxpin.com] Teddy Ruxpin instead?” he cries – and features a scene where he hangs himself and members of his family burn his body with cigarettes. Darker still is ‘Same Song And Dance’, an eerily beautiful wisp of woozy female vocals and ghostly synths in which Eminem fantasises about picking up Lindsay Lohan in a rainstorm and strangling her with an extension cord. “You ain’t never gonna break that glass”, he breathes, “That windshield’s too strong for you”.
Too much? Yeah, that’s the idea – and that such cheerful chat about serial killers and aborting babies with coat hangers is dropped in among the likes of ‘Bagpipes From Baghdad’, a track about ex-beau Mariah Carey that sees Eminem’s accent drift between comedy Arabic to comedy Glaswegian, only makes ‘Relapse’ feel more deranged in its delighted amorality. Come the climactic ‘Underground’ he’s the villain, victorious at the end of a horror flick, crowing about “60 sluts dying of asphyxia” over operatic choruses and gunshots. It’s hard to escape the fact, though, that Eminem only sounds truly energised when he’s letting his mind roam to the darkest places.
While parts of ‘Relapse’ offer evidence he can bounce back, it’s far from compelling. ‘Old Time’s Sake’ with Dre heralds a mid-album slump, and a handful of poor-me tracks – ‘Déjà Vu’, where he mourns the death of D-12 bandmate Proof in a daze of pills and alcohol; the bluesy, miserable ‘Beautiful’ – feel leaden and tired. It’s occasionally startling in the deviousness of its wordplay, wicked in the depths of its depravity. But the overriding feel is of an album just too jaded, too joyless to truly count as a return to form.
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