Guess who, as many are no doubt saying, is back. Back again. Having seemingly disappeared from the limelight after 2004’s Encore to take up a role behind the mixing desk, Eminem has returned to action. The real reason for his departure from the scene soon becomes clear, however. And when we say soon, we mean from the very opening seconds of this, his fifth album. You see, Marshall Mathers has been having a few problems with drink and drugs and he wants to tell us all about it.
Virtually every track across this long, long album contains some reference to the various pills that he took to popping to get him through the hardship of his success. It all plays out like some kind of marathon Narcotics Anonymous session, albeit a twisted one where the protagonist feels the need to boast of his addiction and its cause and effect. After a while – okay, after the end of that first track – you wish he’d shut up and talk about something else. Which he does on the odd occasion, taking in subjects such as rape, murder, the suicide of his stepfather, his mother’s shortcomings, bitches, faggots and how the world can’t do without him. In short – same shit, different album.
There are those who praise Eminem as a poet, as someone to be lauded for presenting an honest and brutal version of his experiences. What they don’t mention is that he has spread those experiences out over ten years now, offering very little more on the subjects than he did on The Slim Shady LP. Although, you have to hand it to him, his tale of molestation at the hands of his suicidal stepfather does bring something new to the table. It’s an uncomfortable listen certainly, although perhaps the message is lost amongst the feeling that he’s simply using it as an excuse to outdo himself in the offending stakes. Which is often the problem with him as an artist, that the method of delivery overshadows the content.
If this is supposed to be the new, sober Eminem (especially since the death of his closest friend Big Proof), it’s hard to find the evidence. In fact, this is his dumbest, most banal record to date. It’s easy to be shocked and angered by some of lyrical content (‘couple rape charges, people think you’re a monster’) but even this soon wears off to become replaced by the feeling that it’s just a bit dull. That though is a dangerous route to take for this is a hateful, nasty record and to let it slide is to do a disservice to those who have built careers around trying to counteract this crap. When the likes of Kanye West can produce records as challenging, personal and engaging as 808s & Heartbreaks without resorting to clichÃ©, there really is no need for rubbish like this.
Eventually we are left with the same question that always surrounds a new Eminem record, just when will the real Marshall Mathers stand up? He has shown enough glimmers of a genuine talent over the years (-Stan’, -Mosh’, -Lose Yourself’ and more) to suggest that most of the time he is just coasting through all this (as is Dr Dre’s uninspired production) when in fact he could be doing something astonishing. That talent shows itself only once on Relapse. On -Beautiful’, he manages to turn his demise into something tangible for the listener, as opposed to just another whiny voiced rant from a miserable pop star. Yes the message is still that he’s ‘fucking depressed’ but at least here he drops his guard for a brief moment to allow us to walk a thousand miles in his shoes. The fact that it is the sole beacon amongst an ocean of misogyny and bigotry makes it a bitter sweet pill to swallow.
Does Eminem care about any of this? Probably not, especially when he can beat Green Day and their well thought-out, politically and culturally charged record to number one by mentioning titties a few times and bragging about sexually assaulting a girl in his car. You would like to think though, that deep down, the real Slim Shady / Eminem / Marshall Mathers knows that he has sold himself short. Or maybe all he really wants to do is take your money.