This review appears on No Ripcord.
Comments: Despite all the negative things I am about to say about Relapse, there are two very important points that must be kept in mind.
1) From a technical standpoint, Eminem is the best rapper alive. Better than Lil Wayne, better than Jay-Z, better than any backpacker, underground, grime or regional act anywhere else in the world. His flow, delivery, internal rhymes and complex structure will always be more important that his content, and in these areas he is without rival.
2) Relapse is, by a wide margin, the man's best album since The Eminem Show.
Those facts established, let's talk some shit, eh?
Controversy played an enormous part in Eminem's success in the late '90s. In fact, one could argue that shock was the main factor to his meteoric rise, more so than his talent, his production or his skin color. Considering his fall from the public eye thanks to diminishing releases and a four-year absence from rapping, it is not surprising that Relapse leans heavily on the scare tactics. The rapper downs bottles of pills, kills everyone in a McDonald's, jerks off to Hannah Montana and drinks his cousin's bathwater. All on the first track.
The difference here lies in what is behind the words and not the words themselves. Sure, Eminem's albums have always been twisted, violent affairs. However, the mania on previous albums was fueled by an almost palpable anger, a desperate search for some kind of peace through ultra-violence. And while tracks like "Underground" and "Beautiful" are powered by this same intensity, the vast majority of the album's tracks are little more than gross-out jokes.
Speaking of jokes, odds are good that by the time this review hits the web, "We Made You" will have been played over 10 times in a single day on most mainstream FM stations. Clearly this track is an attempt to re-create the angry frat humor aimed at pop culture that served Em so well in the past ("The Real Slim Shady", "My Name Is"). This song and the album at large miss the mark in this respect as well. I have a theory that in this modern age of hyper-fast celebrity news turnaround, such songs like this cannot work any more. It would certainly explain why jabs at Lindsey Lohan, Kim Kardashian and Sarah Palin cause more eye rolls than chuckles.
More likely, however, is that Eminem has lost the fire. His first albums were, as he was quick to point out, combative middle fingers aimed at everyone and everything that pushed against him. Now he's making albums about recovering from addiction, sounding worn out and uninspired. Dude needs to find a muse or something.
"I may be done with rap / I need a new outlet," Em raps on "Beautiful." I hope it doesn't come to that. Even at his worst, Eminem is worlds more talented than anyone else rapping today. When he's on, like on "Crack a Bottle", "Stay Wide Awake" and the other previously highlighted songs, he is a titan. Relapse is billed as a return to form, but it plays more like a departure note.
Key Tracks: Underground, Beautiful, Crack a Bottle, Stay Wide Awake
Buy, Steal, Skip: Steal