With “Not Afraid,” the confessional single which drives Eminem‘s new album Recovery, the MC alludes to a change which has steered him in a new direction.
Not only does he call himself out, admitting that last year’s Relapse was mediocre (“And to the fans, I’ll never let you down again, I’m back/I promise to never go back on that promise, in fact/Let’s be honest, that last Relapse CD was eh/Perhaps I ran them accents into the ground/Relax, I ain’t going back to that now), but he also showcases a new, refreshing perspective. “I’m not afraid to take a stand/Everybody come take my hand/We’ll walk this road together, through the storm/Whatever weather, cold or warm/Just let you know that, you’re not alone/Holla if you feel that you’ve been down the same road.” But despite the hook’s focus on redemption, the rest of Recovery does little to reinforce the idea that the new Slim Shady is really all that different from the old Slim Shady.
One of the biggest distractions on Relapse was Eminem’s failure to find a comfortable flow. Through the entire album he seemed to be scratching away at his skin, hoping to peel everything away and reveal the “real” Marshall Mathers. But he couldn’t: Forever falling back into various characters, Relapse receded into a record that failed to express Eminem’s talent, combed over with tired attempts at being provocative and shocking. With Recovery there is less of a sense of desperation which translates through Eminem’s lyrics, once again depicting the MC as the confident icon that his fans have come to love.
After reintroducing himself with “Cold Wind Blows” the MC lays down a series of lyrics in “Talkin’ 2 Myself” that erase any doubt that he has lost his touch. The introspective track finds Shady revealing many of the insecurities and fears that led to jealousy overtaking him; “I turned into a hater.” “Hatred was flowing through my vains/On the verge of going insane/I almost made a song dissing Lil Wayne/It’s like I was jealous of him ’cause of the attention he was gettin’… Almost went at Kanye, too.” Reaffirming his feelings about Relapse Eminem continues, “This time around is different, the last two albums didn’t count: Encore I was on drugs, Relapse I was flushing them out/I’ve come to make it up to you now, no more fucking around/I’ve got something to prove to fans, ’cause I feel like I let ‘em down.”
“On Fire” follows, though it fails to retain the same level of emotion as “Talkin’,” replacing heartfelt confessions with soft one-liners, “Saliva’s like sulphuric acid in your hand, it’ll eat through anything metal, the ass of Iron Man.” Calling out Brooke Hogan and flaunting that he’s wasting punch-lines does little to help the MC’s cause here, leaving it as the weakest on the record. Pink opens the next track, gently moaning over an aggressive beat provided by DJ Khalil. The confrontational lyrics in the track lead to one of the album’s most unexpected moments: The record momentarily goes silent as the volume on the track is literally turned down, nearly muting the artist and the beat, “Tryin’ to turn me down, that’s why I’m talkin’ to you/Turn me up, what are you insane?”
“W.T.P.” (“White Trash Party”) teases a few tight bars, “Even my dentist hates when I floss,” but the white trash theme is something too far played out for even Shady to reinvent, the drunk and disorderly theme coming off as stale rather than cheeky: “I don’t need a tank top to be a wife beater.” Sampling Ozzy Osbourne‘s unforgettable vocals from Black Sabbath‘s “Changes,” “Going Through Changes” follows and revives the album, Eminem examining his recent pitfalls and erratic behavior throughout the track. Recalling his lapse into darkness, the MC closes out the song by relating his issues to his now-optimistic state of mind, “I don’t know what I’m gonna do, but I’ll just keep on going through changes.” “Seduction” follows the aforementioned “Not Afraid,” its slow beat accompanies an awkward wave of lyrics that flaunt Eminem’s sexual prowess, relating his abilities to his lyrical technique. Like “W.T.P.” before it, the track has some strong lines but it ultimately adds little to the record.
Eminem’s contribution to Lil Wayne’s Rebirth,”Drop the World,” ended up being that album’s strongest track; fitting then that the Lil Wayne collaboration lands as one of Recovery‘s most well-crafted tracks. The immediately recognizable Haddaway sample helps introduce Weezy’s verse—the MC lending the track some of his most entertaining lyrics in recent memory.
“Throw dirt on me and grow a wildflower/But it’s fuck the world, get a child out her/Yeah, my life a bitch, but you nothin’ ’bout her/Been to hell and back, I can show you vouchers/I’m rollin’ sweets, I’m smokin’ sour, married to the game, but she broke her vows/That’s why my bars are full of broken bottles, and my nightstands are full of open bibles/I think about more than I forget, but I don’t go ’round fire expecting not to sweat… Be good or be good at it, fuckin’ right I got my gun: semi-Cartermatic.”
Eminem follows suit, standing firm and condemning the people who left him when he was at his weakest, bleeding hostility throughout the rest of the track, “I’m alive again, more alive than I have been in my whole entire life… They call me a freak ’cause I like to spit on these pussys before I eat ‘em/And get these wack cocksuckers off the stage, where’s Kanye when you need him?”
“Space Bound” continues the retribution theme and “Cinderella Man” returns to lyrics that reflect his retrospective disappointment in Relapse, “Fuck my last CD that shit’s in the track, I’ll be goddamned if another rapper gets in my ass.” “25 to Life” further emphasizes Shady’s focus on returning to his prime, focusing on his torn relationships, but just as the record starts teetering on the brink of becoming repetitive Dr. Dre steps in with a dense beat in “So Bad.” In the track Eminem ties together a thread of bars that bounce right along with Dre’s beat, “There ain’t nobody as bomb as… me, I’m as calm as the breeze, I’m the bee’s knees, his legs and his arms/I’m a superstar girl, I’m ready for you mama, why you think the only thing I got on is my pajamas?” “Almost Famous” continues with a heavy bounce, Eminem immediately kicking down the door with reckless abandon, “I stuck my dick in this game like a rapist, they call me Slim Roethlisberger/I go berserker than a fed up post office worker.”
Rihanna introduces “Love the Way You Lie,” a sentimental track that surrounds eroding relationships; though Shady still finds a way to inject his ultra-violent lyrics amongst Rihanna’s brokenhearted chorus, “If she ever tries to fucking leave again I’m gonna tie her to the bed and set this house on fire.” This only goes to further emphasize the ever-polarizing aspect to Eminem’s records. Like each of its predecessors, Recovery is loaded with vulgar, sexist, and homophobic lyrics. Depending on how you approach the MC, you’re either going to focus on the intelligence reflected by the majority of his bars or take him literally and view him as an unforgivable bigot. The first track, “Cold Wind Blows,” stands as an immediate confrontation between Em and the listener, offering some of the album’s most outrageous lyrics as if to say ‘enter if you dare, but this is what you’re getting yourself into.’ In these terms he’s never been shy, and he’ll likely stoke the argument further with each new album he creates. It’s hard to overlook his lyrics, and the damaging effects they may have, but for each track that finds him assuming this crass character, there is a song like “You’re Never Over” that reminds the listener of Eminem’s humanity. The track is a rapid-fire lyrical assault that leans heavily on uplifting bars aimed at overcoming the grief associated with the loss of his longtime friend and D12 member Proof, “This depression ain’t takin’ me hostage… Lord I’m so thankful, please don’t think I don’t feel grateful, I do/Just grant me the strength that I need, for one more day to get through/So homie this is your song, I dedicate this to you.”
It’s not any sort of revelation to find out what Eminem meant by saying that he feels like he’s a new person, the MC bluntly explaining that “the new me’s back to the old me” in “Talkin’ 2 Myself.” But what comes with this return is a renewed sense of clarity that has freed him of whatever was holding him back with Relapse. It’s one thing to say that Eminem is a changed person, and it’s another for the MC to actually come through with an album that reaffirms the statement. With Recovery he’s done just that. Perhaps it’s Eminem who should have released an album called Rebirth and not Lil Wayne, because with Recovery Marshall Mathers sounds more confident and clearheaded than he has in years, and it’s left the MC with one of his most complete records to date.