Album Review: Eminem - 'Recovery' (Island)

The real Slim Shady is standing once more, and his return to form is all the more convincing for its honesty

"Fuck my last CD, that shit’s in my trash", says the most famous rapper in the world about his multi million selling album 'Relapse' on 'Cinderella Man'. You can see why he’s keen to disown it: not only was it shoddy, but, as Eminem’s first new release in five years, that album also denied 'Recovery' the big comeback status it deserves.

Still, it’s a disarming move; the past year’s big hip-hop releases have all revolved around being better than the other big hip-hop releases. Jeezy’s 'Rebirth', Jigga’s 'Blueprint III', Fiddy’s 'Before I Self Destruct' – the main theme in each is that their respective perpetrator is the best rapper in the world and all other rappers are loser loser double losers.

And yet here’s Shady openly apologising for the past half-decade of sub-par releases. Is it because he has the least to lose? 'Talkin' 2 Myself' suggests so; it’s the story of Eminem, sitting on his couch popping sleeping pills, "wallowing, self-loathing and hollow", feeling jealous of Lil Wayne and Kanye when he sees them on the telly. It’s not long before he puts himself back on the naughty step: "The last two albums didn’t count/ 'Encore' I was on drugs and 'Relapse' I was flushing them out." The song starts with Eminem recounting in the first person, but soon he’s rapping to his own messed-up psyche, screaming: "Are you stupid? You goin' start dissin' people for no reason?/Especially when you can't write a decent punchline even."

That sets the temper for the rest of 'Recovery' – on the one hand he’s regaining the skill and control that once made him untouchable, on the other he’s frothing at the mouth, half-demented, shouting at everyone and no-one in particular.

It’s an instability that proves the most engaging on 'Going Through Changes', a tribute to his late friend Proof, who was shot in the head in 2006. He chooses candidness over sentimentality and you can tell his sadness is raw: he’s snapping at his daughter Hailie, fighting his own depression, all the while switching tense and narration technique like a man unravelling. When he's popping sleeping pills and talking about ending it, he sounds like he just might. It's here that he reveals his hospitalisation for 'pneumonia' in 2008 came as a result of this period and the last verse acts as a note for a suicide that was narrowly avoided.

When he’s not recounting past woes, he's standing in front of the mirror geeing himself up. 'No Love' sees Lil Wayne act as hype man for a whole two and a half minutes before Eminem comes in and drops one of the best verses of his career. It makes Wayne sound like Jedward-era Vanilla Ice.

Let's not get carried away, this is a return to form, not greatness. Even when he’s good, he’s got nothing on his first three albums, and when he’s bad, it’s just embarrassing. On 'Seduction' he brags about someone else's girlfriend fantasising over sleeping with him. Seriously, Marshall? You’ve got a kid and look like Justin Bieber’s white trash uncle, no-one wants to hear about a girl "on your johnson" with her "jaw stuck from sucking my dick". It's icky.

But 'Seduction' aside, he plays his new elder statesman role well. His flow and accuracy are just objectively better than those Young Money upstarts; all his verses deserve repeat listens. We’re treading new territory with middle-aged rap superstars, but Eminem seems to be marking out an acceptable career path: self aware, technically advanced, intelligent, able to go at speeds other than full throttle. 'Relapse' should have been the end of his career, but by admitting his mistakes as well as trumpeting his successes, Shady's given himself one last stand.

Sam Wolfson

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Click here to get your copy of Eminem's "Recovery' from the Rough Trade shop
7 / 10

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