Back for the First Time
It would be a delight to dismiss Relapse as just another glorified piece of dysfunctional mess off the Slim Shady assembly line. Lyrically, however, this is one of Eminem's strongest albums.
Relapse maintains a cinematic vibe from start to finish. The eerie intro "Dr. West" finds Marshall having a brief conversation with his doctor, who urges him to succumb to his dependence on drugs. This leads to Eminem's transformation from Marshall Mathers to the familiar devil Slim Shady, hence the album title: Relapse.
This nightmare segues into the serial killer thriller "3 a.m.," which finds Slim Shady methodically stalking his victims and detailing a grotesque massacre in Shadyville. Sound familiar?
"My Mom" is exactly what you think it is -- another song about the drug-addled Debbie Mathers, only this time there's a strange twist. Eminem blames his drug problems on his mom. Hey, I didn't say it was a fresh twist, did I?
"Insane" is the kind of track that can make non-Eminem fans squirm in their seats. Em kicks it off with "I was born with a d--k in my brain, yeah f--ked in the head," and goes on to detail a sexual molestation episode with his step-father. Dr. Dre stacks a disarming bass line under triangles and other high elements that never hint at the G-funk tweedle he's all but abandoned.
Over the next few songs, the album picks up steam, then loses it briefly in the middle, before reaching a plateau. "We Made You" is as listless as Eminem singles go, and "Old-Times Sake" is terribly generic.
"Bagpipes From Baghdad" showcases some brutal wordplay, as Shady swipes at Nick Cannon, Mariah Carey, and other celebrities over Dr. Dre's thumping beat. On "Medicine Ball," Eminem invites the world to continue to hate him, but not without giving them a graphic reason to do so: "Drop kicked the b---h before her second trimester. Performed a home abortion with Dexter then I guess I'll/ Dig her fetus out with a wire hanger then digest her." If you're appalled by that, then the rest of Relapse will disgust you.
Same Song, Different Dance
Things plunge downhill briefly when Eminem attempts to sing on "Beautiful," the best case of unintentional comedy on the album. We all know that Eminem hits high notes like Dwight Howard shoots free throws.
While Em's narratives are familiar, his method of delivery has evolved. There are unique rhyme sequences and vocal cadences here ("Soon as the flow starts, I compose art like the ghost of Mozart"). Complex rhymes get even more complex. Even the faux accent occasionally adds flavor to his concoction.
Sure, a conceptual leap would have been preferable. Now more than ever, hip-hop needs leadership from its veterans, not redundancy. But in a genre constantly ridiculed for squeegeeing ideas while the market is still wet, new tricks are little more than comfort food.
The Bottom Line on 'Relapse'
Despite the lyrical calisthenics on display, Relapse isn't as stunning as The Slim Shady LP or The Marshall Mathers LP. Truth be told, few albums by any rapper will ever match the intensity of Eminem's first two. But as the time-honored manner of magical emcees go, Relapse showcases an incredibly gifted lyricist doing what he does best.
Ultimately, Relapse is funnier than Encore, thanks largely to Em's return to his Slim Shady persona. How many other thirty-two-six-old MCs can wrangle laughs out of everything? He won't score many new fans with Relapse, but he'll sure as hell satisfy the millions of followers he's already amassed in the last 10 years. By most standards, it's his best release since The Eminem Show.Top Tracks:
- "Bagpipes from Baghdad"
- "Deja Vu"
- "Medicine Ball"