Review Summary: Guess who's back? Back again? Shady's back! Do with that what you will.
In 2002, Marshall Mathers boasted: “can’t leave rap alone, the game needs me!”
It came with the same offhanded cadence he used to use to slam Britney and the FCC, but now it’s 2010, and suddenly… yeah. The game needs
Eminem, and needs him in prime form. Think about it: Lil’ Wayne’s in jail. Kanye West, shi
t-hot “Power” notwithstanding, is still a disgraced punch line. 50 Cent has become a hitless beanpole. And who the fuck
is Drake, anyway? Eminem once believed himself to be the most important figure in hip hop, which, for white people, was probably true. To a legion of angsty suburban kids otherwise unschooled in anything hip-hop, Eminem was it
: the cultural antichrist just nonthreatening enough to be idolized. And we need Shady back. For a good six years, there’s been a Slim-shaped hole in our hearts, torn open when Eminem shat out Encore
. For a good six years, the real
Slim Shady’s been floundering in a pill-addicted stupor. And it’s no overstatement to say that, hell, we’ve missed him. We’ve missed the Shady who mocked pop culture from the pedestal he built for himself. We’ve missed the Shady who always seemed a hair away from going apeshi
t and missed even more the Shady who actually went apesh
it. And with Recovery
, we get him back.
See, as much as pop culture needs Marshall, Marshall needs pop culture. Recovery
is easily Eminem’s most important album, not just for his career, but also for himself. This album is audible therapy, complete with several cuts of Eminem apologizing, taking responsibility for being a terrible rapper, and promising to get better. You know, rehab shit
. It’s literally a recovery, with all the good and bad implications a recovery entails. First off, yes, Eminem doesn’t suck anymore, so rejoice! Eminem has relearned how to spit fire, and it’s easy to declare Recovery
a fully successful comeback for Em when he leads with some of his most jaw-dropping verses since Eminem Show
on “Cold Wind Blows.” For precious moments on Recovery
, Eminem sounds like the mischievous little zit we remember from the Marshall Mathers LP
, only with the supersized production that’s characterized his latest stuff. But Recovery
also features Em working the demons out of his system, which means all of Em’s dirty laundry: not just the drug use, but the domestic strife, the well-tread conflict over being a ho-stabbing rapper and a father, the grief over Proof’s death. We’re not getting Marshall Mathers: The Character here, but Marshall Mathers: The Somewhat Normal, Post-Prime Middle-Aged Man whose myriad complexes are about as interesting as any other post-prime middle-aged man’s. Which is to say: not very.
I’m not trying to fault Eminem for apologizing, because shit
, we needed an “I’m sorry” to take him seriously after Encore
. That’s why “Not Afraid,” though a pretty crappy single even by Em’s slipping standards, had
to be the first single. It’s a track that gives us a reason to care about Eminem again. Actually, strike that: It’s a reason for us to give Eminem a chance
again. It’s the verses on “Cold Wind Blows,” “Won’t Back Down,” and “On Fire” that are why you should care again. The soap opera that runs throughout the rest of the album lands as overkill, pleas for us to pay attention against insufficient reason to. It’s not that he’s being fake about it; Em’s conviction on the forgiveness and pity-grabbing tracks is fierce, like he’s desperately trying to make amends for Encore
, the latter of which he admits on “Not Afraid” to be a steaming pile of donkey shit
(though I think he uses the term “ehh”). But self-deprecation is a horrible color on Eminem, and it certainly doesn’t suit him as well as, say, pissing on B-list celebrities and beating the shi
t out of Kim. Still, this is the new
Em, post drugs, a hair more sane (though really, with “Warning” and “Despicable” released as pre-Recovery
teasers, we know he’s still crazy as fuck
) and ready to love.
Not that Recovery
truly masks the Shady half of Slim; the old, vitally mad Eminem still pops out, eyes bulging, ready to bring down the world. Even if his targets are a little stale (Elton John? Michael Vick? Michael J. Fox (twice)? Really???
), the songs where he’s in attack mode land better because they’re reminiscent of an Em who used to shit
on chart topping pop stars instead of collaborate with them. (Which reminds me: how are all
the guest spots on Recovery this
awful? I mean Pink’s always been terrible but Marshall somehow gets Rihanna and Lil Wayne to suck themselves into an endless vortex of awful Eminem hooks.) Eminem may not be as tuned into the zeitgeist as he once was, but we can forgive him because at least on these tracks he’s spitting lightning instead of getting caught up in some other bullshit
like battle-rapping about something as inane as stealing an anonymous rapper’s girlfriend with his skillz (“Seduction”). Or using prolonged adolescent Facebook messages to Kim as a metaphor for his feelings on the game
(“25 to Life”). Or actually unironically comparing himself to Superman when he has a whole fuck
ing song in his well-known catalogue where he uses the Superman reference to try to fuc
hes. But no, the fiery Eminem is not the Em we’re meant to see on Recovery
. Instead we get a vulnerable, wounded man who just wants one more chance to make amends.
And yeah, he earns the forgiveness and respect he craves with some occasionally killer verses and actually funny jokes, but make no mistake, Recovery
is an exorcism of the demons that made Encore
suck, and so we are treated to verses about hope
and beats whose minor-major chord changes are supposed to offer inspiration
. We are treated to Important Topic Eminem and here, Important Topic Eminem is the worst
Eminem. I guess, though, he couldn’t have really done Recovery
any other way. I mean, after a career nosedive as sharp as the one he took, Recovery
had to be this wrought. And with the demons gone, maybe Eminem actually will release a real return to form in full instead this flashes-of-former-brilliance mixed bag. Recovery
still lacks many things that once made Eminem amazing, like crisp beats and sufferable hooks (seriously, they’re that
bad). Perhaps he could’ve used some more assistance from a Doctor too busy going through his own Detox to help Eminem through his. But for now, we’ll take Recovery
for what it is. This is Eminem getting over Eminem, and we’re going to be excited about it because, let’s face it: Shady’s back. Tell a friend.