Note: Relapse is Eminem’s first full-length studio album in five years.
Sound: Dr. Dre unleashes a bevy of gleaming, grand, gangsta beats. Some have a club-ready bounce, but more of them have the dramatic tension of a horror flick thanks to his signature synths, strings, piano and live drums.
Lyrics: Eminem returns in top form as the murderous, drug-addicted, sexually predatory, demon-filled and downright demented Slim Shady, the guy with the nasal, piercing and razor sharp flow that’s so precise and hypnotic you can’t help but pay attention. While he revisits an abundance of familiar topics, he’s at his freshest when he offers new perspective on his battles with drug addiction and how he inherited his problems from his drug-dependent mother.
Heavy Rotation tracks: “3 a.m.” (Top 20 Songs of 2009 Candidate); “My Mom”
Medium Rotation tracks: “We Made You”; “Crack a Bottle” featuring Dr. Dre & 50 Cent; “Insane”; “Déjà Vu”
Recommended: In a pop culture climate where the nihilistic character of The Dark Night’s Joker was endlessly praised, it’s hard to disparage Eminem too much for revisiting the sick and twisted character that made him a megastar, because he’s so good at it—though Heath Ledger’s character was Rated-R and seemingly just a character, whereas Eminem’s Silm Shady is Rated-X and more autobiographical, though exaggerated. But as impressive as a return to form as this is for Em, it does get tiresome to hear him tackle a lot of the same topics he did on his first couple of albums. 2002’s instant classic “Lose Yourself” hinted at the potential for new, more uplifting lyrical directions. And in 2004, at a time when the U.S. was sharply divided politically, Eminem had a chance to truly speak out and have an impact. He did, with the track and video for “Mosh,” but he wasn’t very good at activism. Pills, homicidal dream fantasies, off-color celebrity-baiting barbs and wrestling with the baggage of his childhood. That’s what Eminem’s good at—really good. So if you’re still interested in hearing about those topics, delivered with stunning musical dexterity, there’s plenty to like on Relapse.