Eminem's "Relapse"--Review

Back to the Dark Side

Eminem's muscial hiatus saw the death of his best friend, Deshaun "Proof" Holton, a near-death experience at the hands of prescription drugs, and countless other tragedies and roadblocks that can be heard in the opening minute of the song "Careful What You Wish For." The history behind the album is very important, as most of the music found therein is heavily based upon Marshall Mathers' personal life, but that is not to say that there are not traces of the Slim Shady LP still alive in Eminem's lastest work. The greatness of Relapse lies in its portrayal of the many sides that make Eminem what he is.

How good is this album? Well, it was good enough to place its opening track, a skit ("Dr. West"), on the US Billboard Top 200 Charts at #105. In the skit, Eminem is heard speaking to a doctor, presumably preparing to check out of rehab and reassimilate soberly into the world. The doctor's careless attitude grows more and more vexing to Em, ultimately climaxing with a transformation from doctor to devil that leads Marshall to relapse into his addiction. The skit is chilling in its depiction of the darkness that Eminem finds himself pulled into, and, as always, the transition from the skit to the second track is fantastically clean and smooth.  A pounding, intense beat leads into track two, "3 a.m.", which chronicles the blood-drenched fantasies of a serial killer.  The difference between this track and similar ones on past albums is that the darkness Slim Shady exuded on past albums was always covered by a clever layer of humor.  Here, it's clear that Mathers has truly fallen into darkness, and the sense of humor so many expect from him is not going to be a theme on Relapse.

Both the third track, "My Mom," and the fourth, "Insane," document the atrocities of Eminem's childhood, with the former delving into his mother's encouragement of his young use of prescription drugs (not for their prescribed uses, to say the least).  The track "Insane," which was called "genius" by Kanye West (probably for its masterful beat and flow), is perhaps the most sexually explicit song yet by Em, as it tells of a fabricated tale involving his stepfather that is not fit for print.  The chorus asks the question you will undoubtedly wonder throughout the course of the song: "If you could kill the skeletons in my closet, under my bed and up under my faucet, then you would know that I've completely lost it...is he nuts?  No, he's insane!"   Though in "My Mom" he does tell his teacher to "find..a white crayon and color a...zebra" and claim that he falls into bed with "a bottle of meds and a Heath Ledger bobblehead," the humorous side usually seen in accounts of his past seems absent here.  However, the darkest Marshall yet is just as compelling as those Marshalls before him.

The fifth track, "Bagpipes from Baghdad," opens its first verse by telling the listener that "Locked in Mariah's wine cellar, all [Eminem] had for lunch, was bread, wine, more bread, wine, and 'Cap'n Crunch'."  So begins a scathing attack on Mariah Carey's credibility, though not as directly focused as the accusations heard in Mathers' post-Relapse song "The Warning."  After a vast, varied array of vintage Slim Shady insanity and politically-incorrect randomness, "Bagpipes" gives way to the sixth track, "Hello," which begins to introduce one of the central themes on the album:  women.  The song is primarily about drugs, and Eminem notes: "I don't mean any harm, all I wanted to do was to just say hello," suggesting that drugs will not lead him to be quite as misogynistic as so many have marked him as.  The skit "Tonya" quickly amps up the violent behavior, depicting Eminem kidnapping a young woman who has been stranded, ending with her desperate yell "Help me!"  The transition from "Hello" into this skit, with rainfall in the mix, are impressive, and after Tonya's call for help, the eighth track, "Same Song & Dance," immediately begins its uptempo, catchy beat.  The depiction of the deceptive treatment of famous women, including Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, defines the song, and the celebrity slayings continue much less literally in the ninth track, "We Made You."  The actions in both songs are clearly make-believe, and though one is darker than the other, neither is quite as offensive as Eminem's opponents will find the tenth track, "Medicine Ball," and the twelfth, "Stay Wide Awake."  Both point to violence towards and objectification of women and other groups, and while the eerie beat and murderous subject matter of "Stay Wide Awake" diverge at points from the Christopher Reeves-attacking, anti-abortion activist-alienating lyrics of "Medicine Ball," the chorus of the latter demonstrates Em's ability to say whatever comes into his mind and thrive off the reception:  "I guess it's time for you to hate me again."  Both tracks are exceptional ones, but "Stay Wide Awake" may be the best track on the entire album when considering its lyrical content, beat, and flow.  Sandwiched in-between these two tracks is the eleventh on the album, a skit named "Paul," in which Paul Rosenberg, Eminem's agent and attorney, decides that the album is too much for him to handle or defend against criticism (taking exceptional offense to the tracks "Insane" and "Medicine Ball").

Moving the focus from women to narcotics and fame, the thirteenth track, "Old Time's Sake," brings Dr. Dre into the mix and unites the two superstars alongside a beat as fantastic as what we've come to expect from the D.R.E.  The chorus is fierce, and both of their flows are killer, creating a wonderful track leading into the heaviest beat on the album, that of the next track, "Must Be the Ganja."  The beat drops hard and low, and Eminem's flow continues to be at an extraordinary level for the third consecutive track.  The song covers the effects of a certain narcotic, which you may be able to guess, upon Mathers' mindstate.  Basically, Eminem's self-image is displayed here, and his ego seems quite easy to justify when noting his enticing performance.  Narcotics lead back into prescription drugs, though, as the skit "Mr. Mathers" plays from the point-of-view of the first responders who attempt in vain to revive an incapacitated Eminem on his bathroom floor and take him into the ambulance.  The sixteenth track "Déjà Vu" follows with just a shred of a beat, allowing the listener to focus on the story that Eminem tells.  The story behind his overdose is apt to scare his loyal fans, who surely never heard the horrors of his mental and physical downfall, as he describes in detail what he took, what it did to him, what happened to those around him, and finally what caused him to realize "Me and you, we almost had the same outcome, Heath [Ledger]."  The haunting track is accompanied by the seventeenth, "Beautiful," in the phase of describing the fall and rise of the best-selling rap artist alive.  The re-invention of Mathers that is introduced in "Beautiful" and continues as he returns to form in "Crack a Bottle," a number-one hit in the U.S., would not be complete without a reminder of where he had to go to make it back to the top.  Speaking of "Crack a Bottle," it didn't garner the attention it did just because it was the first single released from the album:  this song is good.  Very good.  The beat is absolutely legendary, and the "platinum trio," as Eminem calls it, of Mathers, Dr. Dre, and 50 Cent, delivers a diverse, balanced statement to the industry:  Shady/Aftermath is back, Eminem is back, and maybe, just maybe, rap is back.  West coast (Dre) rap is combined with an east coast (50 Cent) flow, and the man from the midwest with the most unique style in the industry (Eminem) completes the masterful mixture that is "Crack a Bottle." 

Finally, the nineteenth track, the skit named "Steve Berman," hints at Eminem's second album of 2009, believed to be named Relapse 2, while showing the listener the aftermath of Em's shooting of Berman as heard on the skit by the same name from the album The Eminem Show (2002).  The aftermath leads a fed-up, partially-disabled Berman to draw a gun on Mathers and force him out of his office.  Eminem finishes the album with his signature dose of pure lunacy, courtesy of his Slim Shady persona, on the twentieth track, "Underground."  He describes fighting and otherwise defaming some of the most fearsome horror characters of all time, and generally aims at violently dominating all in his path.  In short, he's still as crazy as he ever was, and the cameo made at the end of the track by Ken Kaniff only re-inforces the idea that Eminem and Shady are both back and haven't changed a bit.

The Deluxe Edition of Relapse gives way to two additional songs, "My Darling" and "Careful What You Wish For."  The latter is quite short and concise, featuring only two verses and beginning with a lengthy introduction describing the events that led up to Eminem's collapse.  The song warns those who ask for fame and fortune that it can come back to bite them, and that it has done just that to him:  "Be careful what you wish for, 'cause you just might get it, and if you get it, then you just might not know what to do wit' it, 'cause it might just come back on you tenfold."  The song is a quality one for sure, but not quite on the level of tracks on the regular album, and definitely not on the level of the other bonus track, "My Darling."  "My Darling" begins with Eminem revealing that he does not see other rappers as competition, instead focusing on doing what he does and maintaining his position as the best.  After basically playing with his opponents in the first verse, the second verse opens with a voice unheard since the "Dr. West" skit:  the devil's.  The second and third verses are absolutely genius, and the concept of him trying to overcome the influence of the one to whom he has sold his soul is put together with such a level of quality that one has no choice but to say "Wow."  The devil tries to pull Eminem back into his career, and Em decides he doesn't want it, and the struggle ensues.  The song is one of his greatest ever, and presents the feelings he had to overcome in a way that is nothing short of revolutionary.

Final Thoughts:  I give Relapse a 4.35/5, or an 8.7/10, because though some of his lyrics may make you wish his old sense of humor was still here, the darkness inside and the evil smile that replace the blonde-haired young rapper of the past are very satisfying signs.  The murderous relapse phase (tracks 1-2) is perhaps the most intense, but lyrically lackluster, but even these lyrics are beyond the best most other rappers can bring.  This section recieves an 8/10 from me.  The family trauma that follows (tracks 3-4) has a tremendous sound despite its explicit moments, and it receives a 9.5/10.  Track 5 stands alone, and receives an 8/10.  The section focusing on women, tracks 6-12, is very good, but not quite as strong as other portions of the album, but is still a strong 9/10 in my book.  The narcotics stage (tracks 13-14) is a very catchy section that I really took a strong liking too and that has a very smooth but strong flow, earning it a 9.6/10.  Tracks 15-17, as well as the two bonus tracks (fall and rise of Eminem) are darker and slower than those before them, but are very, very meaningful and incredibly solid lyrically, garnering them a 9.8/10.  The return of Eminem (tracks 18-20) is also fantastic, and I give it a 9/10.  This is the best rap album I've heard since 2002.

Relapse

The album is the sixth by Eminem and the first since the release of "Encore" in 2004.
The album is the sixth by Eminem and the first since the release of "Encore" in 2004.

Track Listing

1.  Dr. West (skit), 1:29

2.  3 a.m., 5:19

3.  My Mom, 5:19

4.  Insane, 3:01

5.  Bagpipes from Baghdad, 4:43

6.  Hello, 4:08

7.  Tonya (skit), 0:42

8.  Same Song & Dance, 4:06

9.  We Made You, 4:29

10.  Medicine Ball, 3:57

11.  Paul (skit), 0:19

12.  Stay Wide Awake, 5:19

13.  Old Time's Sake, 4:38

14.  Must Be the Ganja, 4:02

15.  Mr. Mathers (skit), 0:42

16.  Déjà Vu, 4:43

17.  Beautiful, 6:32

18.  Crack a Bottle, 4:57

19.  Steve Berman (skit), 1:29

20.  Underground, 6:11

Deluxe Edition

21.  My Darling, 5:20

22.  Careful What You Wish For, 3:47

 

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