While Entertaining, Eminem's Latest 'Relapse' Is Not a Revolution

Photo: Eminem
[Interscope Records]
Eminem RELAPSE [Interscope Records]

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Relapse is the sixth studio album by Eminem, and the good news is that hip-hop's foremost provocateur has lost surprisingly little of his verbal fortitude. In a genre exceedingly characterized by trappings of glamour and self-promotion, the album shines as a marvel of old-school workmanship-albeit one that accomplishes little in terms of advancing the legacy of its notorious architect.

Detractors of his previous effort, 2004's Encore, should rest assured that Relapse contains little of that album's lackadaisical foundations. Eminem's personal intensity remains largely intact, as does his penchant for stirring up controversy from fistfuls of lyrical prowess. Whether he's rapping about inhaling dizzying intoxicants in "Old Time's Sake" or spinning phantasmagoric stories of sexual deviancy and childhood nightmares in "Insane," it's clear that Eminem's mastery of language and delivery remains virtually nonpareil.

Furthermore, certain aspects of Relapse play out as strictly experimental. As an album, it not only represents a confluence of Eminem's past works but also captures the rapper at a level of unusual sonic diversity.

Stylistically, the album's emphasis on musicality is reminiscent of The Eminem Show; thematically, Relapse recalls the sharpness of the artist's debut album, The Slim Shady LP. It's a testament to this combination that Eminem is able to switch between his usual nasal-toned staccato and naturalistic rapping voice with such admirable ease-a quality that shines through songs as varied as "We Made You" and "Beautiful."

While Eminem's wordplay in Relapse is pound for pound as superlative as that of its predecessors, the album's production as a whole remains curiously subpar. Supervised almost exclusively by long-time collaborator and mentor Dr. Dre, Relapse showcases its unique sound early on but never quite expands on its possibilities. Dre's menacing loops and pounding metallic synths do wonders for songs like "My Mom" and "Insane," yet those same sonic qualities quickly lose their novelty six or seven tracks into the album.

For better or worse, Relapse stands a testament to the 38-year old rapper's divisive legacy, a mixed bag of inimitable talent and harsh controversy. In some way or other, we've all soaked in his scathing invectives, marveled at his bravura storytelling skills and raised eyebrows at his alarming off-stage antics. We've also witnessed his ascension to the rafters of the musical world spawning everything from multi-platinum studio albums to hip-hop mavens lionizing him as the dominant emcee of his generation. At its best, Relapse is great entertainment that's capable of titillating even the most hardcore Eminem fan; in the longer run, this album merely reminds us of the masterpieces he used to make, of the revolutionary he used to be.

Curiously, Eminem seems aware of his past and its effect on his current state, rapping in "Insane": "If you could count the skeletons in my closet / Under my bed and up under my faucet / Then you would know I completely lost it." That he references his previous works with such remarkable whimsy suggests, more than anything else, that Relapse waxes self-reflexive. At one and the same time innovative and prosaic, Relapse is a polarizing walk through the creative mind of a legend. The album itself falls short of greatness, but no matter; five years after he last graced the charts with Encore, Eminem has proved once again that the hip-hop world just isn't the same without his searing presence.


Soak in Eminem's interviews with David at [email protected]

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