"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Eminem - Relapse: Review


"Really, Marshall? We are biting T.I. album cover's now? C'mon, dude."

I never hated Brett Farve until he refused to retire. When I saw Brett Farve hobbling about in a Jets uniform last season, throwing ill-advised passes to the opposing squad’s players and generally axe-murdering his team’s chances with his selfish cowboyisms and morally deplorable delusions of grandeur, an internal reflex went up and I instantly took an extreme disliking to the man. This was curious because just the season before my nostalgia factor for the man was at an all-time high since I had hoped that Farve would single-handedly defeat the immoral, cheating forces of Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots in the Super Bowl thus restoring my faith in the ability of good to triumph over evil. However, after watching Farve hold the Packers hostage over the summer with his dilettantish will-he-or-won’t-he drama, I decided that Brett Farve was not the man I though he was and he should be hated with extreme fashion. There comes a time in your life when you have to know when to step down or you risk ruining your legacy for good. Brett Farve is why Eminem’s “Relapse” should not have happened. Unfortunately, it did. We are worse as hip hop fans for it.

“Relapse” is a terrible record masquerading as an average one. On the surface, the album features all the signifiers of a traditional Eminem record that made him the biggest star on the planet earlier this decade. It has the over-produced, pop-star bashing ditties ("We Made You", "Crack A Bottle"), the whiny blame-my-mom-a-thons ("My Mom", natch), the asinine Kan Kaniff/Steve Berman/Paul Rosenbergs skits, and the darkly humorous odes to blood, murder and mayhem ("3 A.M.", "Insane", etc.) that were always the red meat of Eminem’s records. If you were trying to forge a comeback after disappearing from the music industry for the better part of five tears, this would be the record that conventional wisdom would tell you to make. You simply make a record that appeals to your hardcore fans that is exactly in your wheel house and they will come back in droves as they once did. However, conventional wisdom is almost universally wrong when it comes to crafting art so it comes as no surprise that “Relapse” is super-nova collapsing epic failure.

Let me note something right off the bat. Eminem is still one of the top five best technical rappers these days. The problem with “Relapse” is not that Eminem has collapsed into a Jay-Z-esque shell of his former glory stumbling through his verses as if he forgot how to actually rhyme anymore. His rapping is not the problem. His verses are nearly flawless exercises in technical profession and one of the best strictly lyrical performances I’ve heard. The way he uses words and bounces them off each other is marvel to listen to if you are fan of rapping. The way he creates new words to rhyme with each other and his delivery is still top notch. The problem is that Eminem’s words have become shallow and overtly amoral to the point where he’s lost his most defining trait his humor.

What social critics of all kinds failed to grasp about Eminem early in his career that despite the ultra violence, the homophobia and the misogyny that there was a deep sense of dark humor that should have been obvious to anybody that listened to the record. It baffled me as sixteen year old bumping "The Slim Shady LP” in my bedroom that anybody could take this record was anything other than a comedy record granted a dark and morbid one. There is something morbidly hilarious about a song like “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” where Eminem drags his ex-wife’s body to dump in the ocean while his daughter sits in the front seat of the car. If you could get past the basic premise of the joke being a murdered woman than you could essentially see the subtle dark comedy of dragging a dead body and having to pull “A Weekend At Bernie’s” for the benefit of the cooing child in the passenger seat. This isn’t an exercise in misogyny or nihilistic violence. It’s theater of the absurd. It’s “Dick In A Box” taken to an extreme conclusion. Granted at times, Eminem’s music could get to a truly dark and nihilistic place like a song like “Kim” exposes but for the most part, the violence and misogyny was so over the top and cartoonish that it couldn’t possibly be taken seriously. You would have to be completely humorless to be offended which most parents and politicians are.

Relapse,” however, completely loses that sense of subtle dark humor and replaces it with a more gruesome form of violence and malevolence. On the surface, the record seems to have many of signifiers of comedy (the funny voices, the pop culture references, etc.) that Eminem’s early records have but it simply lacks what made the records funny in the first place and that was the wit. It’s not really funny to describe dismembering a family member’s body with a chainsaw on it’s lone. Dismembering a family member’s body and accidentally sawing your own arm and running around chasing after it when a dog steals your severed limb is funny because what you have described is absurd and ironic (I think... Alanis Morrisette permanently destroyed my sense of the word, years ago...). Songs like “3 am” and “Same Song & Dance” aren’t funny. They are just tired and disturbing. There is nothing inherently funny about an incest gay rape story like “Insane” describes. It’s overtly gross and unnerving and I can’t imagine many people want to actually listen to it. If “Slim Shady LP” was the musical equivalent of Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” trilogy, equal parts scary and hilarious, than “Relapse” is as an Eli Roth torture porn film content on dwelling on the gore of the kill for shock value alone. The album is a cultural void.

There are lot of other problems with the album like Dr. Dre devolving into one of the world’s worst producers (Seriously, I’m loathe to listen to “Detox” now because how terrible a producer he’s become) but“Relapse” fails precisely because it fails to adhere to the law of diminishing returns. It sets out to remake “The Marshall Mathers LP” and either because Eminem lost his sense of humor because of age, stints in rehab or the death of Proof, the record is half-assed facsimile of the original. If you simply set out to re-make the same album again without attempting to grow as an artist or evolve you inevitably will find that your audience will grow up and eventually tire of your routine. It should come as no shock that each Eminem record since the seminal “Marshall Mathers LP” have sold slightly less and have been retrograding in terms of quality. The album sticks so doggedly to the Eminem formula of success that it leaves little for Eminem to expand as artist beyond his traditional parameters. This record is permanently stuck in 2002 and it suffers greatly for it. Honestly, I was hoping for a more honest and mature record from Marshall Mathers especially considering all of the real life pain and trauma that he was going through and we would get a reflective contemplative album. We didn’t. We got the musical equivalent of “Saw VI.” It’s not pretty.

Video: Eminem - 3 A.M.

45 comments:

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

I agree fully. I was so excited to hear this, and its the same musical abortion that "Encore" was four years ago. Eminem can still flow better than anyone, but he really just doesn't have anything left to say. It's sad. He's simply the world's most poetic shock-jock. And I know nobody else feels this way, but I like The Eminem Show more than The Marshall Mathers LP.

tray said...

I've never been quite clear on exactly what it was that Em used to have to say, but whatever it was, back then he said it in an entertaining and fresh fashion. These days he sounds very old and bloated and tired and douchey.

bobdigi said...

I agree with most of what you say, especially with regard to this being an almost American-Gangster-esque rehash of older, safer material. however, that being said, I liked American Gangster a lot more than Kingdom Come, and likewise think this is a big step up (for what it's worth) from Encore.

not Dre's best production work here, but it's better than Em's own beats. and I almost felt a sense of shock at how good the rhymes were (relative to what I've become accustomed to).

the album's not very funny, but I kind of get the impression it isn't meant to be. like Em's not in a very happy place right now and he's sharing that, whether or not it comes across as funny ha-ha. "shock-jock" might be the right term for it.

the subject matter hasn't matured and it's far from his best work, but I expected a turd sandwich of such epic proportions I'm actually quite impressed.

which is quite sad, really.

bding7 said...

"Eminem can still flow better than anyone"

yea, i'm just not hearing that (based on the admittedly few songs i've heard). his voice sounds higher pitched, which is really irritating, and just stringing words that go well together quickly isn't enough for me. if it were, i'd just listen to termanology all day.

MCH said...

Doc Zeus, you seem to not realize that this is a CONCEPT album dealing with Slim Shady going to rehab, relapsing and all the craziness that comes with it, then trying to get sober at the end. It is actually borderline brilliant if you ask me. Dre's beats are good for the most part and like you said, Eminem flows unbelievably well.

I agree that I would like to hear a more "mature and evolved" Eminem album, but that is not what he has given us. Accepting this album for what it is, is the key to enjoying it in my opinion.

All in all, would you at least say this is better than Encore?

tray said...

I love when rappers say they're doing concept albums and the concept is basically "making a shitty album."* And then you're like, yo, that was a shitty album, and their fans are like, but that was the concept.

*For example, the "concept" here and on American Gangster was basically tiredly rehashing all the ideas of their vastly superior past work.

DocZeus said...

While I'm not sure I would phrase it so assholically like Tray here. I would have to agree with him. Being a concept album doesn't necessarily make it any good.

"Prince Amongst Thieves" is a great concept album. "The Album That Shall Not Be Named" is not.

Anonymous said...

no, Encore sucked, this one sucks harder.

Actually, I enjoy deja vu and underground. The rest was boring, tired, and just silly... not good silly either.. like 50 cent silly.

Its like hip hop made for dumb people

Anonymous said...

I was pleasantly surprise with this album to be honest. None of the album is funny in the slightest, but outside of a couple songs bagpipes, we made you, medicine ball, I think thats it, it was more of a serious record trying to take you into a dark place in his mind where he has been at the past few years.

Deja Vu is a sick record compared to any song on any of his albums.

But the songs he tries to be funny, he really just rehashes the same jokes he has been using his whole career, which were not even remotely funny on the eminem show like 7 years ago.

"Stay Wide Awake" "Same song and Dance" (Although I think it would have been better if he had not used the names brittany and lindsay, too many ppl dismiss the song as pop culture bashing as opposed to the continung depiction of a psycotic drug addict I think the whole album was based around) and "3Am" were good songs as well.

I was mostly just glad to see him trying to at least rap well again as he is better then anyone at it even when he has nothing to say.

tray said...

Yeah, it's assholic, but concept albums are almost always an excuse for something, or just plain stupid (like T.I. vs. T.I.P.). In the case of Beyonce, for instance, she creates an alternate personality so she can excuse her being a slut to the prim/proper members of her vast audience. In the case of Jay, he runs out of shit to say so he figures he'll go back to talking about selling drugs. (Before that, his very vague concept was "grown man music," which was supposed to explain why Kingdom Come was somehow beyond the ken of his streets-bound fans.) Em here decided that he'd remake his old shit because, like, what else can he do anymore, so the "concept" is that he's "relapsing" into his old Slim Shady ways. Really, I don't get why rappers even bother with this sort of bullshit. Em's still going to sell his records regardless of whether he hoodwinks his fans into thinking that there's some kind of sophisticated rationale behind the suckiness of his album.

Trey Stone said...

i agree with bding, i don't think the guy's really flowed well since '04. with Jay-Z, his flow obviously isn't what it used to be but his delivery on "AG" had a sense of purpose and he was rhyming well, even if he was rapping slower. whereas Em's flow has none of the intensity that used to make it good. it sounds like he's just tossing off rhymes.

agreed on the other criticisms, though.

bding7 said...

what i understand even less is why bloggers who were early fans of Em's refuse to admit that he just doesn't sound very good. i read constant qualifiers like, "don't get me wrong, he's still technically gifted," as though they're holding onto their boyhood hero. why do people do this?

Anonymous said...

You don't think his rhymes and flow are off the charts on this album? This is possibly his BEST album in that regard, ignoring the subject matter totally in this case. Obviously you can't do that but the technical rapping skills are there.

Also, I think trey missed the point of the concept. He is not relapsing into slim shady, he is relapsing into drugs and pyschosis. I thought it was done well enough if much of the album was a bit disturbing.

d. b. cooper said...

This is a Rapecore album. Not exactly what the world needs now. I'm glad I didn't buy this one, it's even worse than Encore. Sure, as DocZeus acknowledged, he can still flow, but the lyrics make up for the technical skill. He also uses a silly voice on every track, a voice that has no significant meaning within the song. He just seams to want us to think he's a psycho. Well, if I wanna listen to some bullshit like this I'll just pull out Psychoactive by X-Raided or early Brotha Lynch Hung, they did it better and with more heart and feeling. Relapse is just creepy for creepy's sake.

"I love when rappers say they're doing concept albums and the concept is basically "making a shitty album.""this

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

After some more listens, I like this record. My main issue is that he uses the dumb voice on every single song, theres no serious tracks where he just sounds good. He needs to go back to his earlier sound, before he started messing with his voice all the time. And I still feel that lyrically, hes run out of things to say, but he still says what he does say pretty damn well.

Jason said...

Fuck technical rapping skills! There I said it, who gives a fuck seriously? I have never listened to any rapper for that reason alone. I have always loathed Em, skill aside because dude lacks insight and bores the eff out of me. If you want real technical skill and interesting rhymes better go back and some Organized Konfusion

Anonymous said...

This is the most garbage review I've ever read. The album is vintage Em and I know a lot of people love this album.

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

The album would be vintage Em with a little less weirdness, and no dumb voices. I could accept the lyrical oddity, but the voices are just too much. Without them, this would be a great album.

Badmon3333 said...

It's like he's a sort of humorless caricature of the Slim Shady character... or that he actually turned INTO the Slim Shady character and realized that it really wasn't all that great.

The while yes, the rapping is technically sound, it's almost as though he's doing an impression of his old self.

Weird and kind of depressing.

Anonymous said...

I think the high pitched...triumph-esque voice has really killed everything for this album...lyrically brilliant...but that damned voice throughout the whole album destroyed it for me...I like his song Underground...that one is good shyt!

colz said...

i can't see how people don't see this album as a good return, he isn't going to sound as angry and intense as he used to because i would imagine alot of the lyrics off the first two had been written before he had money and fame, the album mixes encore with his earlier style, uses stupid voices, then comes in with hard raps and lets be honest the album wipes the floor with the so called "best rapper alive" (lil wayne really can't rap, album was only good because of features and good production), he don't talk about 26 inch rims and money, he never has and in my opinion, i don't know why anyone expected something more mature, this is eminem, back at his twisted best

Trey Stone said...

i knew it was only a matter of time before someone was gonna bust out the "he's not talking about his cars/jewels/whatever" line

Anonymous said...

Whatever dildo wrote this fuckin review should get his fuckin' head out of his ass and realize the concept of the fuckin album. Dumbass, its supposed to be fuckin serious you stupid faggot and its hilarious to me that you don't get it. It just shows ur fuckin retarded and need something to be funny in order to care for it. Way to go you stupid lazy fucking cunt.

Elie said...

OK.

Here is my wrap

First of all I really really liked his bonus cd with the song "my darling"

His flow in it. the conversation being conducted in it. the story line. that was on point. he also uses his normal flow and voice. his flow fsits on the beat. etc....

now 3am, is a good song, however, as the review mentions, is just too serious. I mean. Eminem used to be serious but he would be angry in a way where he would either be funny angry (i.e. without me, my fault, etc...) , or inspirational angry (i.e. the way i am), but this song to me, is just psychotic angry. This also goes to insane. I mean his flow in the song is crazy but he ruins it with content. Which i think is a key feature on this album...


Ok he is making a concept, I understand, but I like his older approach better.

Regardless, songs like Same song and dance i struggle to listen to.

Songs like hello sorta remind me of his old humour.

I rate this album better than encore but not as good as MMLP, SSLP, and TES.

Lyzurd said...

I don't like all you giving bad comment reviews from 1 album.. theres 1 more coming.. u really cant say shit about his style until he releases more music. And yall gon complain about his voice? sound like some bitches

Jose said...

I disagree with the review. You mentioned that Slim Shady lp had some dark comedy underneath the absurdity. This album also has a underlying message: coming out of rehab. Underneath all the absurdity one hears one experiences em's feelings aching for a relapse. by the way, INSANE is my favorite track because its so raw. So there's one person you can imagine listening over an over again. I'm not an Eminem fan, I hated Encore and the Eminem show.

Jose said...

I disagree with the review. You mentioned that Slim Shady lp had some dark comedy underneath the absurdity. This album also has a underlying message: coming out of rehab. Underneath all the absurdity one hears one experiences em's feelings aching for a relapse. by the way, INSANE is my favorite track because its so raw. So there's one person you can imagine listening over an over again. I'm not an Eminem fan, I hated Encore and the Eminem show.

Jose said...

I disagree with the review. You mentioned that Slim Shady lp had some dark comedy underneath the absurdity. This album also has a underlying message: coming out of rehab. Underneath all the absurdity one hears one experiences em's feelings aching for a relapse. by the way, INSANE is my favorite track because its so raw. So there's one person you can imagine listening over an over again. I'm not an Eminem fan, I hated Encore and the Eminem show.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the review. You mentioned that Slim Shady lp had some dark comedy underneath the absurdity. This album also has a underlying message: coming out of rehab. Underneath all the absurdity one hears one experiences em's feelings aching for a relapse. by the way, INSANE is my favorite track because its so raw. So there's one person you can imagine listening over an over again. I'm not an Eminem fan, I hated Encore and the Eminem show. I'm not saying that should make me un-bais, or anything, but if one is to make a comeback, who should one please but their most devoted fans, and that's another thing eminem did.

yeaaaaaaaa said...

I don't understand how any rap fan would actually say "Fuck technical rapping skills"

Why do you listen to the rappers if they SUCK AT RAPPING?!? Makes no sense, its like saying "Fuck if the guy can actually play the guitar".

You don't have to have insane "Technical rap skills" to be a rapper I can feel (Think Tupac) But it sure as hell helps, and even if you can't feel a lot of their music you can at least acknowledge they are good at what they do.

Trey Stone said...

i think Jason's point was that technique doesn't mean a lot if the rapper isn't actually interesting. which i'd agree with.

again though, i don't see how Eminem's even rapping well anymore, unless flow's very low on your list of what makes a good emcee.

Trey Stone said...

also interesting that you used guitar as a comparison, cuz some of the arguments over hip-hop technique are similar to arguments on how X guitar-wankmaster is better than, i dunno, Kurt Cobain. cuz he only used three chords, dude.

JJ said...

Bitches will always be wining bitches. Nobody asked for your opinion. Don;t like it? Don't listen it. But keep your irritating byassed opinions to yourself. Im going to listen and enjoy it once more.
Superman has returned

DocZeus said...

Ah, yes. The stannery comes out in full force whenever you take shots at somebody's favorite emcees.

yeaaaaaa said...

I don't see how his flow is not hot as hell on basically the entire album. Despite his obnoxious voice for much of it. His flow is better then it has ever been.

yeaaaaa said...

And I also tend to enjoy just an impressive display of "rapping abilities" same as I would enjoy a great guitar solo. But i could also not listen to a guitar solo all day. It is just occasionally nice to listen to someone be very good at what they do.

Relating to the music is also pretty important but not everything. As you can be talking about things I can relate to perfectly, but if your wack your wack, I think it works both ways.

You need technical rapping skills at least a bit to be considered even decent by my standards. I don't understand the other side of the argument. lol.

Badmon3333 said...

"...the Stannery..." - BWAAAAA HA HA HA! That's why I love this blog.

d. b. cooper said...

Anonymous asserted:
its supposed to be fuckin seriousWell, then, massive fail on Em's part. It's actually a fuckin joke. It's like all he meant to do was fart silently but instead he shit his pants. Not the reviewer's fault.

Anonymous said...

Bitches will always be wining bitches. Nobody asked for your opinion. Don;t like it? Don't listen it. But keep your irritating byassed opinions to yourself. Im going to listen and enjoy it once more.

Squike said...

Agreed to a certain extent. Em is not all a comdedian. He has quite a few serious songs especially in "The Eminem Show" and i prefer that album to any other. MMLP probably 2nd. But relapse has some potential, definatly more the encore. Although some of his songs have gone downhill, things like beautiful are amazing. Must be the ganja has more lyrical skill and wordplayy han any other song int he album. Underground is like the nre criminal. But i do feel eminem has lost some of his special touch. Insane and my mom although aboutt he same subject will never be another "Cleaning out my Closet". The album has some good songs but it definatly doesn't have as good enough stuff as eminem show or mmlp. But to think about it. he did this at 1st. "The Slim shady LP was liek this, then MMLP came out and blew fans away to see em had an angry side. The Eminem show came out to shock people further than eminem had an emotional side. He could be doing that we don't know. But we will see what happens.

Anonymous said...

id like to add that this album is a part 1 of 2, and relapse 2 is probably going to fill the MMLP sort of space (he's kinda let on that this album had to come first, and there is chronology to it)

i like it alot though, for me *****, best stuff eminem has ever made

Anonymous said...

wow i have no idea what youre talking about. granted i dont think this album was nearly his best, but it was still an impressive album by normal standards, although it was slightly below his already set ridiculously high standards. the rhymes he spits are still incredibly written which you did mention, but i think you alot more respect to this album. plus, saying that dre is devolving as a producer is just mad talk. dres one of the best producers in the game ever and to say that most of the beats on this lp arent nasty just isnt close to being correct. this album just sums up all the shit he thinks of and how many problems hes had over the last 5 years and how streaky his attention span can be, it shows the real shady not some fake imitation like it sounds like you want him to be.

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