It was a bit of a no brainer really, I was always going to love Relapse, the new CD from Eminem. I’ve been a big fan since his first single back in 1999, buying up every studio album, compilation, D12 release and collaborative sampler – plus his posthumous collaborations with such rap icons as Christopher “Biggie” Wallace and Tupac Shakur. I’ve bought videos, DVDs, posters, and seen him live on the “criminal” tour supported by Xzibit. In fact you could say I’m something of a “Stan” when it comes to Eminem – I’d class myself as a super-fan.
So I’m not sure whether my gushing review of this CD could be counted as valid, but I’ll continue nevertheless. I don’t just admire Eminem as a rapper. I see him as a wordsmith on a par with the greats – Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Byron and Keats.
His lyrical dexterity is second to none. This quote seems to sum up the esteem in which I hold his skills:
“Despite the media portraying him as the devil at various points in his career — just the latest in a long line of anti-heroes here to steal your children's souls and minds — there always seemed to be something more just below the surface with this guy. As an anonymous poster recently wrote on a music chat board I visit, Slim Shady — Eminem's musical alter ego — is like a Shakespearean fool; there's often a lot of wisdom, even a genius, underneath his apparently mad ravings. In fact, in many ways, it could be argued that he was the first to bring a humanistic, even a more literary side, to hip hop that wasn't really there before — less false braggadocio and a lot more confessional technique, probably more of the latter than any rapper before him or since.” (Bill Holdship, Detroit Metro Times.)
Even when he stops rhyming and recourses to mumbled or slurred gibberish you know that’s just to throw you off guard until the next killer couplet is slammed home. Eminem is in full control of the rudder even when you think his ship is about to crash onto the rocks of taste and morality, he knows exactly where he is going and what reaction he hopes to illicit…
And believe me, you will be pushed to the boundaries of what you find acceptable. Subject matter in the lyrics of the album goes over well trodden ground, ranging from tried and tested avenues:- rape, murder, incest, serial killing, cannibalism, physical and sexual abuse, felching, torture, drug abuse, separating conjoined twins (!) and lampooning target celebrities (even poor old Christopher Reeve still gets a good pummelling, despite his untimely death...) But don’t get it twisted, all of this has to be taken with a pinch of salt, it's all a slickly performed persona – the tendency to rap about subjects ‘close to the knuckle’ is no more reflective of the artist Marshall Mather’s real personal tastes or leanings, than is the hack and slash actions of actor Robert Englund are, when he’s made up as the character Freddy Kruger – Marshall Mathers and Slim Shady are two very different entities.
All the essential elements of a Shady LP are there - skits with Paul Rosenberg and Steve Berman, (denouncing the rapper as a waste of space and his CD as lacking any artistic or commercial merit), collaborations with mentor Dr. Dre and protege 50 Cent, songs about his mum, and the slightly-anthemic-aimed-at-all-those-tortured-goths-wallowing-in-their- bedroom-sing-along-through-your-tears number, "Beautiful". (Why is the most tender and morally valuable song on the CD my least favourite? What does that say about me???)
Notable by their absence are, collaborations with posse D12, songs about ex-wife Kim and any evidence of the politically charged rhetoric that peppered his recordings during the Bush administration. Idon't miss the obsession with wifey, but I did miss the other two.
Beats and backing tracks are as tight as a nat's chuff, the standout track being "Bagpipes For Baghdad" with it's faux R 'n' B Eastern flava, all Bollywood strings, nose flutes and tablas over a thudding bass drum. The track is also notable for a hilarious Scottish flavoured Eminem expressing how he is feeling... "Fooking greet mon!"
I won't pull the album apart track by track they're all superb. Take advantage of the internet and listen to them all, you won't be disappointed. I'm still undecided whether the wholesale public examination of his addiction/relapse/rehab is a genuine attempt by an artist to work through his pain or a cleverly exploited opportunity to provide a concept vehicle for his 'comeback' LP. I'm not sure I care either way. What is definite is the fact that ten years into his career as a megastar, despite five years of seclusion, Eminem is as vital and visceral as ever, still relevent, still excellent and still at the very top of his game!