On his seventh album Eminem is more genuinely impassioned than he’s sounded in years.
Mike Diver 2010
Although he’s revelled in being divisive throughout his career, Eminem himself sided with the critics after the release of 2009’s Relapse. The rapper’s comeback LP, arriving five years after the so-so Encore preceded a brief musical hiatus, was a huge disappointment. It sounded as if Marshall Bruce Mathers III was acting through provocation rather than inspiration. He rallied against artists who dared to slide into his spotlight, reacting to those who had thought him unable to retain a crown he’d held since 1999’s breakthrough, The Slim Shady LP.
The success of Kanye West, Lil Wayne and more put Eminem in a corner – and here, on seventh studio album Recovery, he confesses to coming close to cutting the pair down on record. “I almost made a song dissin’ Lil Wayne… I felt horrible about myself / he was spittin’ and I wasn’t,” he admits on Talkin’ 2 Myself, before concluding: “You mustn’t start dissin’ people for no reason”. It’s quite the turnaround for a man who’s made his name through calling out his rivals as much as delivering deft rhymes from the depths of an incredible imagination. On the very same track, he recognises his own shortcomings on Relapse: “This time around it’s different / the last two albums didn’t count… I’ve got something to prove to fans… Please accept my apologies”. It’s an unprecedented move on the part of the artist, and a welcomed one; after years of analysing others, he’s turning the microscope on himself.
But Recovery doesn’t begin in an appealing fashion: Cold Wind Blows is the sort of expletive-laden tirade that an artist of Eminem’s level really doesn’t need to commit to tape. Everybody enjoys a triple-x rap when the situation suits, particularly when it’s delivered with humour, but the language here goes far beyond the comic-book curses of past material, and returning to his conflict with Mariah Carey is a trite lyrical tactic. But far better follows: On Fire finds Eminem expressing his frustration at poor reviews when critics aren’t aware of personal troubles surrounding said substandard material; No Love brilliantly borrows its Eurodance tempo from Haddaway’s massive 1993 hit What Is Love and welcomes Lil Wayne for a splendidly languorous guest rap; and Dr Dre co-production So Bad is a swaggering slab of tongue-in-cheek braggadocio reminiscent of recent-history hook-ups with the good doctor. He also addresses the 2006 death of childhood friend and fellow D12 rapper Proof on two tracks, You're Never Over and the Black Sabbath-sampling Going Through Changes.
A wide array of producers means that Recovery isn’t as consistent as Eminem’s best albums – his second and third – but there are significantly more highlights here than on either of his previous two. Contributions from Rihanna and Pink work surprisingly well, and while (irregular) extreme-cussing rhymes leave a nasty aftertaste there’s no doubt that this is a return to something approaching fine form – less Relapse 2, more a belated semi-sequel to 2000’s Marshall Mathers LP. The real Slim Shady has never really made himself known, but here an introspective Eminem sounds more genuinely impassioned than he has in years.