Album name: Recovery
Artist name: Eminem
Released: June 18, 2010
ZME Rating: 6/10
Generally speaking, Eminem doesn’t play well with others. Aside from the crew he runs with (or, used to…) – Dre, the Bass Brothers, D12 et al – he just doesn’t jive with too many other artists. If you discount the fact that Dre is the one that discovered him, and has basically served as his executive producer throughout his career, you could argue Em’s success has been his own. Sure, the good Doctor plucked him from Detroit’s underground rap battle domain, but it could just as easily be contended that eventually Marshall woulda become an icon unto himself based solely on his talent as a wordsmith.
This, of course, is the reason that his new album, Recovery, isn’t the comeback we hoped for. Neither is Relapse, for that matter, but for a different reason. You see, Recovery and Relapse are fraternal twins in that they both demonstrate the respective results when Eminem strays from what made him great in the first place. The former displays what happens when Eminem goes against his lone gunman instincts, and the latter shows what happens when he’s left to his own devices for too long. To put it more succinctly, Recovery is listenable because, like his best work, Eminem’s got something worthwhile to say but lacks any real coherence, while Relapse is passable because the production is stellar and cohesive but lacks any real lyrical depth.
To that end, Recovery is the better of the two supposed comeback albums from Mr. Mathers if only because he does have something to say. It’s clear from the outset, though, that this isn’t the same man that once joked, “And if it’s not a rapper that I make it as/ I’ma be a fucking rapist in a Jason mask.” And it probably shouldn’t be. He was 27 when he recorded that line. When Recovery dropped back in June, he was 37. It’d be kinda sad if a guy pushing 40 still fucked around with ideas that juvenile (even if it was in a ridiculously clever manner). Now, he’s older, wiser and spouting off quasi-platitudes and worldly advice. Positive advice at that.
It’s odd, really. To hear Em ask you to take his hand if you’re ever feeling weak, as on “Not Afraid,” is as edifying as it is awkward. Or when he asserts, “I’ll be goddamned if another rapper gets in my ass/ I hit the gas and I spit every rap as if it’s my last,” it feels like he’s ready to put Slim Shady behind him and become a singular entity once more. But he doesn’t wanna pretend that Slim never existed or that he isn’t the same Eminem that recorded “Kill You.” Witness the self-awareness of “Cinderella Man”: “Who forms pyramids and raps circles around square lyricists/ Who? Here’s a clue/ He came to the ball in his wifebeater/ Lost his Nike shoe, it’s in your ass, he’s in your ass/ He’s all up in your psyche too/ Now, what’s his name? Cinderella Man.”
Even when he steps into the satirical Eminem – and even explicitly acknowledges his alter ego (as on “W.T.P.”) – it seems like he’s doing it as an outside observer, the way The Daily Show acts as the kid in the back of the class making snide comments about the teacher. In either case, both have a point to make. With “W.T.P.,” it’s evident Marshall wants to make fun of his upbringing, as well as white trashiness en masse, but it’s not done in the cartoonish way he would’ve handled the same topic a decade ago. That he includes the line, “Making it rain for them ladies in the mini’s/ But I’m not throwing ones, fives, tens, or even twenties/ I’m throwing quarters, nickels, dimes, pennies up at skinnies” in the same song as, “And I don’t need a tank top to be a wife beater/ I’ll rip a tree out the ground and flip it upside down/ ‘Fore I turn over a new leaf, clown” illustrates that Em’s still willing to jest; the difference is, now he’s doing it to make a serious point.
Which brings us back to Eminem keeping a close circle of friends. With the absence of Dre and the Bass Brothers (and even his own work), the production of Recovery isn’t the synth-driven G-funk the trio has perfected over the last 11 years. Dre only appears once here (as a co-producer on “So Bad”), and from the opening bars it’s noticeable how badly Eminem needs him. Because Marshall left out his confidants, a large chunk of the album is, sadly, painted with the same Europop varnish covering the Top 40 as you read this. The aforementioned “Not Afraid,” “Seduction,” “No Love” and “Love The Way You Lie” are all variations on this theme. That said, there are tracks that deviate from this trend. Unfortunately, they don’t fare much better. Opener “Cold Wind Blows” features production from Just Blaze copying Eminem’s own flair for minor, death-style keys plinking under the beat. In other words, it’s been done before and done better. “Won’t Back Down” and “Almost Famous,” both from DJ Khalil, are both arena rock schlock, the former featuring dirge-worthy guitar and the latter substituting keyboards for the same effect.
Then there are the samples. “No Love” samples Haddaway’s “What Is Love” while “Going Through Changes” uses Sabbath’s “Changes.” “Going” just doesn’t work on any level as a beat because it’s based purely on the acoustic strumming of Tony Iommi and nothing else. (Hip-hop production 101: Generally, a sample is supposed to augment production, not be it. Few producers have the talent to ride a sample by itself.) “Space Bound” has an interpolation of R.E.M.’s “Drive.” It’s a painfully boring mistake so we’ll move on. As for “No Love,” well, the saving grace is the duo of Em and Lil’ Wayne trading bars with the hungriest of braggadocio. Either rapper can save a song purely by their respective technical abilities; when paired together, it’s bliss.
Lil’ Wayne aside, the guests are the other reason this album falls so short. “Love The Way You Lie” contains one of the best Rihanna-sung hooks in all of pop music; the message she offers in the chorus is that of hope. Yet, it’s completely out of place on an Eminem song. Even with the new, matured Em, it’s still sounds anachronistic. Kobe (no, not him) attempts to sound heartfelt for the hook during “Talkin’ 2 Myself”. He fails. The worst guest spot, though, is reserved for Pink on “Won’t Back Down.” Why she’s here instead of any other possible pop singer is inexplicable. Why she’s trying to sound anywhere near as tough as Em is more so.
While it is admirable to see Eminem mature and evolve as an artist, it appears that the new (and supposedly improved) version of himself has let too much of his past go. Eminem 2.0 seems to be the one open to inviting any and all ideas (and, by extension, people) into his music. His older self – you know, the version where all his classics come from – kept them at bay with chainsaws and knives. I’m not saying that he needs to return to the days where he threw “fag” around like a game of catch. I’m simply saying that, while making new friends is healthy and the best way to develop as an artist, he needs to remember the ones that got him here in the first place.
1. “Cold Wind Blows”
2. “Talkin’ 2 Myself” (featuring Kobe)
3. “On Fire”
4. “Won’t Back Down” (featuring Pink)
6. “Going Through Changes”
7. “Not Afraid”
9. “No Love” (featuring Lil Wayne)
10. “Space Bound”
11. “Cinderella Man”
12. “25 to Life”
13. “So Bad”
14. “Almost Famous”
15. “Love the Way You Lie” (featuring Rihanna)
16. “You’re Never Over”