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Album review: Eminem, "Recovery"

eminemEminem's return is underwhelming. (Gary Malerba/Associated Press)

By Sean Fennessey

It's not easy being yourself. Not when you're not yourself anymore.

Eminem has been startlingly honest since he returned from a three-year hiatus in 2009. By turns remorseful and recalcitrant since admitting a descent into depression, drug abuse and creeping irrelevance, he was frank with the media in the run-up to his comeback, "Relapse." But that album was a willfully goofy and ghoulish attempt to recapture the eloquent horror of his first two major-label albums, 1999's "The Slim Shady LP" and 2000's "The Marshall Mathers LP." He rapped in a pan-Arabian accent, throwing potshots at fading cultural figures (hello, Jessica Simpson!) and working hard to resemble the unhinged trailer-trash bon vivant of a decade ago.

He failed.

His latest album, "Recovery," initially billed as a sequel to "Relapse," is meant to be a corrective, with emotional purges and a whirring recommitment to the vision of Eminem, superstar and rap genius. But transparency isn't art, nor will it make Eminem 25 again. Instead, "Recovery" is a morose picture of an artist grappling, and often losing his grip.


To his credit, Eminem knows where he went wrong. On "Cinderella Man" he dismisses "Relapse," calling it "trash." And on the Ozzy Osbourne-sampling "Going Through Changes," a sort of follow-up to his 2004 track "Mockingbird," he admits his struggles with pills and self-image: "I'm hatin' my reflection, I walk around the house tryin' to fight mirrors / I can't stand what I look like yeah / I look fat, but what do I care?" It's the kind of exhilarating candor Marshall Mathers excels at, the same quality that made his confessionals to his daughter, Hailie, such fascinating documents of tenderness and jeremiads about his ex-wife, Kim Scott, so terrifying.

To regain some of his hip-hop bona fides, he has teamed with an unlikely, if boldfaced, crew of producers, including Just Blaze, Jim Jonsin and the emerging Boi-1da. And there's a hard edge here, an almost militant consistency, with little of the springy thump Dr. Dre has supplied in the past. The songs seem to scream, "Listen, this song is actually about something." But they're also weighed down by some brutal samples, such as the aforementioned nick of Ozzy's "Changes," and a peculiar lift of Haddaway's 1993 club hit, "What Is Love," for the interesting but ultimately unsuccessful "No Love."

It's only on "Talkin' 2 Myself" that Eminem reveals a new side. It's not Slim Shady or Marshall or Eminem. It's something new, as he mentions that in his darkest hour he considered dissing Kanye West and Lil Wayne, the two rappers who gained the most during his absence. He was jealous of both, aching to reenter the conversation. "Thank God that I didn't do it / I'da had my ass handed to me," he raps. It's a truly naked moment, self-aware and self-effacing. Eminem is competitive, like anyone else. But he is also older, approaching 40. And he's not a chainsaw-wielding, GLAAD-baiting maniac anymore. He lives in a large house with his kids. This is his life now. He can't be anything else. And he shouldn't try to be.

Recommended tracks: "Cinderella Man," "Talkin' 2 Myself"

By David Malitz  |  June 22, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Album reviews  | Tags: Eminem  
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Comments

Eminem is a genius there is no other word to describe his music and talent. I know that there is some verses on recovery where he is saying that relapse wasn't any good and apparently you think the same. I completely disagree i played relapse over and over again until recovery came out. You obviously have no taste, no thoughts, and are frankly extremely stupid for writing this article because you are putting down the greatest musician since Elvis. If you think you could do better than take on the impossible buddy, you will only look like bubba sparks LOL. Get another job because obviously being a reporter isn't the job you are cut out for.

Posted by: guinnmicah | June 22, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

in manhattan
prolific playwright larry myers
offers a deconstruction of the infamous white rapper minem in his inventive surrealistic
reality-Tv-for-stage play
"m & m's with eminem"
play previewed in san francisco with
dr myers playing eminem
he read from variosu works for a gulf relief fund
dr myers wasteher in eprson in gulf oil spl area & wrote
"egar cayce's autograph" he's ben working with runaways & troubled wouth n the bay city offering playwriting thru his
rwm playwrights lab

Posted by: dramaman | June 22, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

There are few words that I could write to refute such a scathing review.

But I'll try.

It becomes obvious when a reader encounters a review like this that the writer is prejudgiced.

Reviews like this may be popular to the media, but popular response does not adhere to reviews like this.

While reviews scorn this artist, in the last year he outsold the Beatles as the number one selling artist in history. He won two Grammy's for Relapse and at least one MTV music award for We Made You.

Perhaps relating to struggle is where his audience comes from. Appromiximately one third of all college graduates and one fourth of all high school children admitt to abusing drugs. While some may detest Eminem's music, at least there is an artist that shows the fallacies of drug abuse.

Posted by: britney_fan_dollface | June 22, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

There are few words that I could write to refute such a scathing review.

But I'll try.

It becomes obvious when a reader encounters a review like this that the writer is unfamiliar with this artist.

Reviews like this may be popular to the media, but popular response does not adhere to reviews like this.

While reviews scorn this artist, in the last year he outsold the Beatles as the number one selling artist in history. He won two Grammy's for Relapse and at least one MTV music award for We Made You.

Perhaps relating to struggle is where his audience comes from. Appromiximately one third of all college graduates and one fourth of all high school children admitt to abusing drugs. While some may detest Eminem's music, at least there is an artist that shows the fallacies of drug abuse.

Posted by: britney_fan_dollface | June 22, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Entirely unfair and prejudiced review. Just because he doesn't talk about raping women and killing people doesn't mean he isn't Eminem. It means he's matured. He still flows like no other and his use of rhyming, play on words, and symbolism is unmatched. Get over your love for Dre. Em's allowed to get beats from other people. Maybe if you're lucky Detox will actually get released and you can write another terrible review about how Dre isn't the same so he's horrible now.

Posted by: soccerplaya2159 | June 22, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Yea, this review clearly doesn't convey the talent on the Recovery album. By far the best album I've heard in ten years. It's been leaked for about two weeks now. I can pretty much quote the whole album, and those are definitely not the ones I would have used. He barely even talks about chainsaws on this album, so you clearly didn't do your homework sir. I think you should not write reviews for the Washington Post anymore because you are worse than the worst anyone had to say about Relapse.

Posted by: HypNo | June 22, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

It's truly unfortunate that the Washington Post decided to choose a rookie editor to write such a one-sided and inaccurate review of Eminem and his latest album Recovery.

David you should be ashamed. I'm sure you have plenty of experience in both journalism and editing but, music is not your strength. Refrain from writing about it.

Posted by: Revelation1 | June 22, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the spirited response everyone. Meantime, @Revelation1, it was Sean Fennessey who wrote this piece. David Malitz is just the one who posted it.

Posted by: ChrisRichards | June 22, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Crirics never ask how my day went.... well i'm gonna tell them.... Yesterday my dog died... Eminem is awesome so shut up retard and get another job because being a journalist is not your bag! I think you should try working at McDonald's, maybe they can relate to your level of stupidity.

Posted by: guinnmicah | June 22, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like Em is back on the crack still spit-tin out the hate flippin that same old tired smack for the latest effort he rummaged around in the cupboard found some old hash way in the back didn't notice the the bulge in the can when he popped the top and flopped it in the pan turned up the hate just as high as it could go even though he don't really know just what hes doing but hes forgiven on that score just a bland man serving up some hate that must make him feel great from some old tin can with a hand that just don't understand how to whip up a dish fitting for his fans same old slop seasoned with some twitterings from his so called friends call it new and refreshing genius without end on and on it goes but in the end its just like the beginning only this time around the dish was a little burned but yo we all choke it down starved as we are looking near and far always outside ourselves so we look to the star but the stars got his mind eyes fixed somewhere else so we have to eat whatever is served up at our seat and try and convince ourselves it is a rare treat a gourmet meal fit for a king but i think we could all find something a little tastier OTC at burger king

Posted by: rocknwroll | June 22, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

right on everyone. sean fennessey obviously has the majority of the upper portion of his torso nestled snuggly inside of his generous backside. i looked up Idiot in the dictionary and wasn't surprised to find a photo of Mr. Fennessey eating a cheeseburger, sitting on top of a large pile of crap.

Posted by: thiknes | June 23, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

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