June 22, 2010
My Gut Reaction: Eminem - Recovery (June 22, 2010)
June 22, 2010 is a busy day for music lovers. In addition to new offerings from the likes of The Chemical Brothers and RJD2, hip hop fans get to choose between How I Got Over from The Roots (which I want to digest further before reviewing) and the Wu Music Group's Pollen: The Swarm Part 3, yet another z-grade Wu-Tang Clan offering that is notable for at least explaining what the hell happened to the original version of the "Smooth Sailing" track that appeared on Wu-Massacre. (As you can tell, I'm not really looking forward to that one.)
But the new release that the world is looking at today is the seventh album from Marshall Mathers, Recovery. With the album, formerly known as Relapse 2 before he scrapped the original concept and elected to record what he thought a mainstream rap album was supposed to sound like, Eminem atones for his misgivings (such as the original Relapse) while fully embracing his status as a pop artist. In no way does he abandon his hip hop roots, however: in fact, he takes his love for our chosen genre one step further, securing beats and rhymes from outside of his comfort zone, thereby furthering the notion that this is Eminem's perception of what hip hop actually sounds like. This means that there are absolutely zero guest appearances from the likes of Curtis Jackson, D-12, and whoever the fuck is still signed to Shady Records at this point, which is a great thing, but they've been replaced by such big names as Lil' Wayne, Pink, and Rihanna, so you take the sweet with the sour. Nearly all of the production comes from the outside, as well, with the likes of DJ Khalil, Boi-1da (still riding his Drake high), and Just Blaze providing the majority of the assistance, but there is only one song produced by Dr. Dre, which is, well, that's also kind of a good thing, considering his output as of late (*cough* "Under Pressure *cough*).
And Marshall himself only adds a few production sprinkles onto a couple of tracks, so that's nice.
Recovery hit the Interweb a full two weeks before its release, and Eminem was blessed with an almost unreal number of positive reviews, most of which singled out specific tracks, such as the Rihanna collaboration. This leads me to believe that Recovery will probably be a huge financial boon for Aftermath/Interscope, but it also makes me think that all of those other early reviews were written by Interscope staffers, so it remains to be seen how this will affect the actual hip hop fans that have followed Marshall Mathers since day one.
Until now, anyway.
1. COLD WIND BLOWS
While I appreciate the fact that Marshall has avoided the rap album intro this time around, he kicks off Recovery with more of his trademarked horrible singing, which is almost worse somehow. When Just Blaze's beat finally kicks in, though, Em adopts his usual antagonistic persona, cursing out anybody and everybody within the tri-state area, sounding angrier than any multimillionaire has any right to, while still managing to diss both Mariah Carey again (sort of) and use the word “cunt” (not while referring to Mariah). This version of the Slim Shady character sounds damn near forty years old, an age at which he should know better. The hook is ass, but truth be told, this is the Em that everyone wanted to hear on Relapse, as he doesn't hide behind any goofy accents. This could have been worse.
2. TALKIN 2 MYSELF (FEAT KOBE)
So yeah, it sounds like complete bullshit that Eminem almost recorded disses against both Lil' Wayne and Kanye West (because they were drawing all of the attention away from him, even though he was busy popping tons of pills around the time that both men rose to prominence), but I can buy that he feels that he would have lost these battles. Not because Weezy and West are masters behind the microphone or anything (definitely not that), but because nobody would side with Marshall; hell, if he started a fight today, he might have trouble drumming up any support for his side. (Unless he battled Curtis Jackson. That would be very fucking interesting.) This DJ Khalil track is a strange amalgam of pop music and rap that shouldn't exist, and I'm afraid that this is what the majority of Recovery will actually sound like, given the Pink and Rihanna guest spots that are still to come (not to mention Em's own cameo on B.o.B.'s “Airplanes Part 2” with the chick from Paramore). The shout-out to DJ AM was a nice touch, and I like than Eminem doesn't even bother to pretend that he's invincible anymore, but I wasn't feeling this one.
3. ON FIRE
Not very good, but fucking hysterical all the same. I disagree with Marshall's statement that critics have never been kind to him throughout his career: at least early on, everyone was occupying prime real estate on his nut sack. But he obviously reads every review: after delivering a characteristically weak hook, he actually says, “I just put a bullshit hook in between two long-ass verses”, and that awareness of his own limitations and abilities cuts through any possible criticism this track will endure. Marshall still goes out of his way to attack unnecessary targets (David Cook? Brooke Hogan? Who cares?), and Mr. Porter, the only member of D-12 to make the album, provides a beat that is a bit too lazy for my taste, but I walked away from this laughing, which is always a better response than wanting to throw the CD out of a car window and punching the driver in the throat, so that was cool.
4. WON'T BACK DOWN (FEAT PINK)
In an interview, Em mentioned that he wanted Pink to sing the chorus on “Won't Back Down” because he felt that she would “smash it”. So why does she sound like every other generic pop tart? Where's Dina Rae when you need her? This is a better choice for a single than “Not Afraid”, as it is chock full of punchlines (some of which are actually funny, which is getting harder and harder for our host to pull off), and DJ Khalil's beat has that guitar-sample-driven sound that the kids are into these days. Also, everyone will probably laugh at the part toward the end where the music is turned down, followed immediately by Em admonishing the listener (who didn't do anything) for talking over him, shouting “Shut the fuck up when my shit's playing!” For a pop song, this wasn't entirely horrible.
Marshall gives listeners yet another overproduced club track filled with mediocre one-liners mixed in with occasional inspired jokes (“Even my dentist hates it when I floss”). The beat, from something called a Supa Dups, would be pretty goddamn great for an entirely different artist, as Em is clearly out of his element. To his credit, his ability to ride any beat has remained intact ever since The Slim Shady EP (he was a completely different artist on Infinite, so this wasn't an issue back then), but he insists on singing to an audience that has never existed. I picture this as being the club song where guys will stop dancing, stare very carefully at the girl they're with in a brighter light, wonder what the hell just happened, and then buying another drink and saying “Fuck it, at least I'm getting something.” Ah, defeatist club music.
6. GOING THROUGH CHANGES
Okay, let me get the negative comments out of the way first: the hook on “Going Through Changes”, culled from a sample of Black Sabbath's “Changes”, is awful, and the track's placement immediately after “W.T.P.” is questionable. Aside from that, Marshall's recollection of the ups and downs of drug dependence is gripping. More so than during any point of Relapse, Eminem discloses his depression after losing his best friend Proof and how he tried to deal with it, all the while worrying about his daughter finding out. Pretty brilliant stuff, actually: I haven't been this touched by an Eminem song since “Mockingbird”. Emile's beat is low-key enough to not be intrusive while Marshall reaches catharsis within his four verses: had it not been for the cop-out on the hook, this could have been pretty great. Instead, it's merely really good.
7. NOT AFRAID
The first single from Recovery, notable for being the first track on which Marshall acknowledged Relapse as being “ehhh”. When taken within the album's context, Em's bars work much better, and there are some actual gems in here, such as “Like a 'fuck you' for Christmas, his gift is a curse”, but the singing on the chorus will severely try your patience. As it is produced by Boi-1da, “Not Afraid”, unsurprisingly, sounds like one of Drake's castoffs: thankfully, Marshall doesn't appear to be one to turn to Auto-Tune when he croons his little heart out. Seriously, though, who told the man he could sing? That person should be stabbed in the face. Not killed, though: they just need to think about the hell that they have brought upon the world. That would be punishment enough.
All sorts of embarrassing: the only saving grace on here is the Boi-1da instrumental, which is quite stark and minimal, not unlike most of the Thank Me Later beats. Who the hell wanted to hear Eminem resort to the tries-and-true trope of “I'll steal your chick”? Marshall seems to take things one step further, threatening to take another rapper's girlfriend away, and he toys with his flow as he is wont to do, but this was about as appealing as mixing peanut butter with spinach, or mixing Lil' Wayne with a toothbrush. Speaking of which...
9. NO LOVE (FEAT LIL WAYNE)
You are fucking shitting me! “No Love” samples Haddaway's “What Is Love”, and attempts to do so in an not-ironic fashion. Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan must be rolling over in their Roxbury graves. That was an interesting experiment, Just Blaze, but your production skills don't quite pull it off. This track is so much more unintentionally hilarious than “Like Toy Soldiers”, and the fact that Lil' Weezy is the first artist you hear only adds to the overt misguidedness of it all. Also, Em feels it important to mention that “you could still get roasted, because Marsh[all] is not mellow!” I'm sorry, but I can't even write about t his abomination anymore: the urge to laugh my ass off is too overwhelming. Everyone goes balls-out, but this track is a hilarious failure. Rumor had it that Eminem recorded a track with Royce da 5'9” and DJ Premier for what was formerly Relapse 2: the fact that he cut that track in favor of this kind of shit is mystifying.
10. SPACE BOUND
Sounds as though Marshall swiped an older Zero 7 song and replaced Sia's vocals with an effeminate, bionic Adam Levine from Maroon 5. The music (produced by Jim Jonsin) is alright enough, but Marshall has demonstrated throughout Recovery that he doesn't know what kind of beats he sounds good on (unless they're handled by Dr. Dre, anyway), and this is no exception. To be fair, I'm not a big fan of the serious Marshall anyway, so I'm kind of biased, but this was still weird.
11. CINDERELLA MAN
The repetition of the song's title is goofy, but I actually liked this track, which is essentially an extended Eminem apology for the lackluster Relapse, created in the hopes of appealing to his long-gone older fans. I don't think that the hook will help matters any, but fuck it, at least he's trying something new, and the wordplay that made everyone fall for Marshall Mathers to begin with is present by the bucketful. I also laughed out loud at the “Shady Dane” reference, even though referencing Dana Dane's “Cinderfella Dana Dane” was kind of an obvious way to go. All that was missing was yet another stellar performance from Safe Men's Paul Giamatti. The football stadium chant of a beat was also pretty stellar.
12. 25 TO LIFE
Marshall is so bitter about his marriage and how poorly his “wife” treats him that he compares the commitment to a prison sentence! How novel! Em sounds like an angrier Drake, except for when the twist ending occurs, when you realize that he's actually pissed about his relationship with (gasp!) hip hop! Fun! Seriously, Marshall still has a captivating flow that draws you into his pain: as long as he wasn't adopting a stupid fucking accent, this has never been his problem. So, even though the hook on here bothered me and the overall outcome sounds like frustration for frustration's sake, I appreciated the effort.
13. SO BAD
A three-verse-long pickup line directed towards...well, I guess you, the listener, as I can't imagine there are many women who still line up to listen to Eminem songs. Over a characteristically lazy present-day Dr. Dre prescription (and we're all eagerly awaiting Detox why?), Slim Shady tries every possible way to get a girl's phone number, even resorting to telling his life story (well, Shady's life story, anyway), and since this is an Eminem song, it ultimately works, and he ends up sleeping with her. At least I think that's what happened: I got bored midway through and allowed my mind to wander. Oooh, look, a blue car!
14. ALMOST FAMOUS
Um, Eminem is already famous, so already this track seems to be self-serving. True, Marshall is allegedly recounting his life pre-The Slim Shady LP, but still. Apparently, Em believes that the future of hip hop involves having a studio musician perform on the chorus sounding like Karin Dreijer Andersson from The Knife, which isn't entirely horrible, to be honest. Ignore all of the references to fame, and “Almost Famous” (I guess you'd have to ignore the title, as well) becomes an effective reintroduction to Slim Shady, as Marshall sounds almost interested in upping his lyrical game again, which is a direct result of DJ Khalil's instrumental, which is pretty damn good, especially when it avoids the cliché of looping the word “famous” throughout the beat: you'll know what I'm talking about when you hear it.
15. LOVE THE WAY YOU LIE (FEAT RIHANNA)
Remember the online petition that hit the blogs last November, encouraging everyone that wanted to hear Eminem and Rihanna on the same track to contact Aftermath/Interscope and demand that it happen during our lifetime? You don't? Oh, that's right: you were busy washing your hair that day. Anyway, looking past how disturbing it is to hear Rihanna sing about how she “like[s] the way it hurts”, this ode to a radio-friendly doomed relationship hits all of the usual points, even allowing Marshall to become slightly violent (I imagine that, had it not been for the presence of the guest star, there would have been a Chris Brown reference somewhere). It's depressing that Em's maturing as a songwriter has to be clouded by this Clear Channel piffle, which will probably be a huge fucking hit.
16. YOU'RE NEVER OVER
Whenever Marshall produces his own shit, you know exactly what to expect (overwrought, dramatic schtick that collapses underneath its seriousness and the overt insincerity of the host), but when he cedes to outside help, as Recovery has proven time and again, , he receives the kind of shit that T.I. probably turned down first. I don't understand how Em believes that this kind of shit is preferable to what he usually does when he's crawling up his own ass, but maybe he was creating a satirical comment on the disposable nature of today's hip hop. More than likely, he just wanted to sell records, and to do so, he studied Billboard and crafted tracks that all sound as though they could have been recorded by your average shitty radio rapper whose biggest goal is to have a hit song, just so they can tell that cute girl in their apartment complex that yes, they are a successful artist (word to Little Brother). Em's obvious contempt for our chosen genre isn't a progressive attack: it's a disappointment, and with this Recovery finally ends. Or does it?
Nope. Recovery ends with a hidden track.
Marshall wastes a Havoc beat with an aimless final track that consists of nothing but punchlines, which is a strange way to cap the evening. Hard to believe that this is the same Havoc from Mobb Deep, but I've never doubted the versatility of the man: I can't imagine Prodigy rhyming over a sample of Lesley Gore's “You Don't Own Me”. At least Marshall thanks everyone for listening, so that was nice. Treat this as the outro that it is, and it still isn't all that great, but at least you're expectations will be lowered.
Fans who pick up the deluxe version of Recovery on iTunes are treated to two additional songs: the Dr. Dre-produced “Ridaz” and the Just Blaze-helmed, Slaughterhouse-featured “Session One”. Considering the fact that I'm not the biggest fan of Joe Budden (who didn't make the final cut of “Session One”), guess which track I'm more interested in? Royce and Eminem, on the same song? For the first time in eighty-seven fucking years? I'm in. However, I don't actually have those tracks, so I can't write anything about them: let me know in the comments if they're worth the effort.
THE LAST WORD: In the long run, Recovery will have the same impact as Relapse: Eminem's seventh album will be a big deal for a short while, and then will fade into hip hop obscurity. What's strange to me is that, for the first time ever, Marshall acknowledges the rest of the hip hop community (at least those outside of his own four walls) and picked up the majority of his beats from a third party, but the end result still fails to render him relevant to today's audience. The accents are long gone (thanks for accepting our feedback, Marshall), and the lyricism (or the wordplay, more accurately) has taken their place, but the majority of Recovery seems to have been designed to make us feel bad for a man who has millions of dollars, lost his best friend, and is still very aware that his former dependence on prescription drugs can come back at any time. He spends a lot of time apologizing, which was an interesting approach, but Recovery stands alone in Eminem's catalog as an album without a cohesive theme, sounding more like a collection of singles than anything even remotely resembling a coherent body of work. A few of the songs click, but I said that about Relapse, too. Recovery just isn't worth it in the long run. There, I said it.
Catch up on all of the other Eminem posts by clicking here.