Following a three-year fugue in which he suffered from a debilitating pill addiction, recidivism was anything but the reality during the recording of Eminem’s “Relapse.” But despite his newfound sobriety, Marshall Mathers descended deeper into depravity, un-retiring his Slim Shady alter ego and concocting grotesque serial killer scenarios.
The year’s most popular rap record drew mixed reviews, with The Times’ Ann Powers aptly calling it, “an impressively focused and clever work….But the music [was] not transcendent, [and] still stuck in Marshall Mathers' muck.” Discarding plans to release a sequel consisting of leftover tracks, Eminem has instead opted to release “Relapse: The Refill” -- the original album and a half dozen tracks from the "Relapse" sessions, plus “Forever,” a collaboration with Drake, Lil Wayne and Kanye West. In advance of its release next week, Pop and Hiss breaks down the new material.
“Forever” featuring Drake, Lil Wayne & Kanye West
From the delirious wordplay of Missy Elliot’s “Busa Rhyme,” Jay-Z’s "Renegade" and posthumous Notorious BIG collaboration “Dead Wrong,” many of Eminem’s finest moments have come via head-to-head competition. Originally intended for a Lebron James documentary, “Forever” continues the tradition. Sparring against MTV’s second, third and fourth “Hottest MCs,” Eminem unleashes a double-timed assault that laps his peers and slaps “kick me” on their back. He declares that the “passion and the flame is ignited.” You believe it.
“Hell Breaks Loose” featuring Dr. Dre
Often likening themselves to Batman and Robin, the best Dr. Dre and Eminem collaborations were always closer to Abbott and Costello, with Eminem’s lacerating wit blending well with Dre’s patient straight man. By contrast, “Hell Breaks Loose” feels Borscht Belt, with a corny string of punch lines about “Shady…filling you up if you’re a D or a C cup” and Dre rhyming “Caboose” with “Grey Goose.” Get the hook.
At his most effective moments on “Relapse,” Eminem’s intensity was so searing that you wanted to turn off the album. Affecting the tungsten-eyed vacancy of a serial killer, he came off more Dahmer than “Dexter.” “Buffalo Bill” is as incisive and insane as anything released in 2009. Rhyming words with Velcro ease, the slithery and sociopathic narrator boasts of “Caucasian carcasses in his crawl space.” He kills cavalierly with chainsaws. In terms of its ability to emulate the mind of a maniac, “Buffalo Bill” is masterful. I never want to listen to it again.
Introspective and effective, “Elevator” finds Slim Shady replaced by Marshall, nostalgic for the time when he “used to sit and goof on the phone with my friend Proof, that if I went gold, I’d go right through the roof, he said what if you went platinum, I just laughed at him, that’s not happening, that’s just something I can’t fathom,” before waking up “80 million records later, sitting in a house with an elevator.”
In those three sentences, he clues you in on the weirdness of his dizzying ascent, the sheer shock of a dirt-poor mullet-clad kid from Warren, Mich., becoming the most famous rapper in the world. You suddenly understand why he needed pills to cope: His friends are dead or distant, he’s trapped by his own fame and ill-equipped to handle the pressure. For someone who frequently plays victim, it’s the rare occasion it doesn’t feel like self-indulgence. Though it is hard to complain when you have an elevator in your house.
“Taking My Ball”
A throwaway scatological track featuring impressions of "South Park's" Cartman, and Kim Kardashian, Heidi Klum, Mischa Barton and Tara Reid name-drops. It’s superfluous and sounds like it could be an outtake from “Encore.” However, it might boast the funniest line on the album, with Eminem insisting he’s going to “mosey on over to Rosie O’ Donnell’s with McDonald’s to watch ‘The Sopranos.’ "
Another song for “Saw” fans. Over music box chimes and trap-door synths, Eminem carves another psychotic fantasy out of the dark chambers of his head. Unlike some of his more contrived horror-core moments, “Music Box” is chilling, with Shady flexing an aggravating unhinged snarl. A Norman Bates stand-in, the narrator is “fixated on asphyxiating and breakin’ this little chick’s neck like a pixie stick,” thus ruining the candy for me for life.
“Drop a Bomb On Em”
Returning to his Scribble Jam battle roots, this is five minutes of nitroglycerin raps with Eminem likening himself to Kenard from “The Wire,” Michael Spinks and Captain America on Ferris wheels. Over a throbbing piano and galloping drums, Eminem taunts haters: “Think ya made a mistake, by saying Shady was ghost, I ain’t even close to the gate.” The man has a point.
-- Jeff Weiss
Photo credit: Karin Catt
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