Album review: Eminem, "Recovery"

June 30, 2010

Eminem, "Recovery" (Aftermath/Interscope) Rating: 1.5/4

 

Coming from a guy who consistently whines about or rails against anyone who dares to criticize or “down” him, the most notable lines on the sixth major-label album from self-constructed hip-hop boogieman Eminem find him agreeing with those of us bored silly by his last few releases. “Them last two albums didn’t count,” he raps. “‘Encore’ I was on drugs/‘Relapse’ I was flushing them out/I’ve come to make it up to you now.” But given that confession—the most honest of many on “Recovery”—why should we believe him?

True, Marshall Mathers seems to have rededicated himself to spitting out sometimes unbelievably complicated rhymes at double- and triple-time; all the poisons he ingested seem to have left that agile tongue undamaged. Yet the key problems dogging his entire career remain: The rapper addresses little of substance with those agile verbal skills (though he canned the idea of “Relapse 2” in favor of “Recovery,” his examinations of his own excesses remain superficial/Lifetime TV movie-clichéd at best, and painfully solipsistic at worst), and he continues to favor the lamest, mid-tempo, minor-key bubblegum-pop backing tracks to showcase his rhymes, with notable samples coming from Black Sabbath (he desecrates the classic “Changes”) and Haddaway’s “What Is Love,” the annoying Eurotrash dance track memorably mocked on “Saturday Night Live” by those clueless head-bobbing wannabe Lotharios.

Really, Slim? You’re joking, right?

“Recovery” is marginally more listenable than its three predecessors, but that is not saying much, and all that time in rehab or wallowing in a self-induced coma of substance abuse and self-pity has left Eminem out of touch with the pop culture references he loves to drop into his rhymes. In place of Steve Christopher Reeves, he’s now picking incessantly and humorlessly on Michael J. Fox or David Carradine (who?). He mocks the current state of hip-pop, but tells us he held back from saying what he really thinks about Lil Wayne and Kanye West, and he’s outclassed and outshined by cameos from Pink (“Won’t Back Down”) and Rihanna (“Love the Way You Lie”). And as musical self-examination of a complicated and troubled artist’s role in the pop universe goes, “Recovery” ultimately is much less daring, insightful, or rewarding than Drake’s recent debut, “Thank Me Later.”