Okay, here we go with draft #101 of my ever-evolving review of this endlessly enjoyable album. Yep, that's right. Endlessly enjoyable. Sorry to disappoint kind readers who gave me points for feeling an internal struggle over this album in previous drafts, but the more I listen to it, the more I like it. Hence my now one-sided review which gives this album two thumbs up. For the principled and faint-hearted, this album will be too nasty to stomach. But the rest of us are in for a treat: tight raps, catchy beats, and hooks. Long-time Eminem fans, who "get" his signature vile sense of humor will know when to laugh and are surely callous now to disturbing tales of rape, murder, drug abuse, profanity, homophobic fantasies, and all-out lascivious. So if you've already been converted to the dark side, don't worry! You can handle it.
First off, this album is not only catchy, it is packed with a rage and ferocity only Eminem can summon, e.g. songs like "8 Mile," that are bursting with so much intensity they give you goosebumps. That is the vibe (only creepier) of this album and it's Eminem's signature sound; no one else does it quite like him. As a songwriter, I know that it is next to impossible to write material that is so striking; in fact, I've never achieved it, and that's why my hat goes off to Eminem. Eminem invested a lot in this album. Deep beneath all the profanity and sensationalism, all the flinging of every taboo in my face, I sensed an artist who just *had* to get it all out, an artist hell bent on expressing himself, freaking the bejesus out of everyone, and doing it all in the most ear-catching way musically possible.
Some people are criticizing this album as mere pandering to a sensation-starved public, but I disagree. The songs are just too potent. If it were mere mass-produced fluff, the material would sound apathetic and be easier to digest, but it isn't. Eminem keeps you guessing. It sometimes sounds like he's rapping for the masses, but more often it sounds like he's rapping for personal catharsis. Sometimes his raps are alarmingly direct, sometimes camped up and ironic. Lyrics pertaining to the exterior world, (pop culture references and social commentary), are intertwined with twisted, personal tales from deep inside his brain. Misogynistic stories are juxtaposed with statements of concern about his daughter and parenting. Tracks riddled with sleaze, innuendo, and silliness mingle with deep tracks about believing in yourself and finding purpose. At varying points he demands respect, makes fun of himself, or plays the victim. And when he spits a tight rhyme using an incongruently bratty, whiny, juvenile voice . . . yep, that's what I'm talking about. Who in the heck is this guy? Lesser artists are more transparent; you instantly know what they're all about. But with Eminem, his persona and tone are constantly in flux. Offensive as it may be, a riveting personality emerges from the madness.
In conclusion, buy this album to be guided by a mesmerizing MC with some of the best chops in the business who will lead you down a dark path you (hopefully) would never find on your own. Eminem is so good at conjuring up all the ugliness in our society that you feel confronted by it, you stare at it straight in the face. The experiencing is kind of jolting, definitely exhilarating. But Eminem's always been good at that. What I like about this album in particular is that he sounds less bratty going about it. I revisited the Slim Shady LP after listening to Relapse and found it (only slightly) annoying. On Relapse, Eminem tackles the dark tales with more imaginative scope and maturity. Another reviewer, J. Berger, felt that this album was more about "art for art's sake" and I think that sums it up. Eminem tackles the same old topics here, but the effect is more probing and less whiny. His voice even sounds a little deeper. I love it.
Eminem . . . if you read this . . . don't you think I maybe deserve an autographed Relapse for working ever so hard on this review and shining a bright light on the strengths of this, your latest and heavily contested album? Why don't your people call my people, etc. etc. ;)