With soul bearing revelations like “Mockingbird” and “Like Toy Soldiers,” 2004’s Encore marked a personal triumph for the psyche of Marshall Mathers, yet the bulk of the album’s frivolous material resulted in the common recognition as being Eminem’s most forgettable work to date. To make matters worse, his health spiraled downward after the tragic shooting of D12 member and best friend DeShaun “Proof” Holton and chronically abusing pain medications. After a nearly-five year hiatus which seemed like an eternity to most fans, Slim Shady steps back on his high horse to break the circle of uncertainly with the thoroughly entertaining Relapse.
Not your typical Relapse however, with the title being a subliminal reckoning for the subconscious of Slim Shady to run amuck — who all but dominates the course of the project. From busting out of rehabilitation centers to masturbating to Hannah Montana movies on the diabolically descriptive “3 A.M.,” to giving into his withdrawals with astounding wordplay on “Must Be The Ganja,” Slim electrifies his audience with all the perversion, wittiness and downright crude humor you’ve come to expect from him over the years. A perfect example of lovely lunacy would be the radical chronicle of “Same Song & Dance,” where Eminem the serial killer proceeds to kidnap and murder Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, and the coinciding skit’s Tonya over Dr. Dre and Dawaun Parker’s eerie composition with bass that thumps like a pulsating heartbeat to match. Ridiculous? Of course. But only a disturbed genius such as Eminem could pull it off to pose as a club song.
Moreover, Dr. Dre can claim Relapse as his own reentry to exemplary Hip-Hop as well. Laboring on all but one of the audio opiates present, his expertise in the studio radiates with a bevy of dark and murderous recordings that feed the monster of Eminem’s bloodthirsty tales. “Stay Wide Awake” employs a haunting piano loop which evokes visions of the forest chase scene from a slasher flick as Em plays yo-yo with lyrics of terrorizing innocent victims. The sounds of breaking glass (and records) on “Crack A Bottle” offers a momentary diversion to the macabre music as does the much-lampooned “We Made You” — which finds its footing in the context of the LP opposed to a stand alone single.
As with any psychiatric disorder however, the road to recovery doesn’t happen overnight. And in Eminem’s case, his bouts with regressing well-worn topics prevent him from showcasing complete remediation. The grotesquely homoerotic “Insane” and the Mariah Carey jarring on “Bagpipes From Baghdad” gain no new ground. Rare epiphanies like the atmospheric “Beautiful” and the remarkably inclusive account of the actual relapse heard on “Déjà Vu,” rank amongst the album’s shining moments. When radio interviews reveal more of the story than the actual music, there’s indication that the Slim Shady caricature may be more of a safe haven for Eminem than given credit for.
Nonetheless, the unyielding cinematic theme and its coordinating score earn high marks all across the board. Eminem returns to the center stage; creating his own limelight without piggybacking on any of Hip-Hop’s current trends. He may have conquered most of his demons but it’s an achievement in itself for one of the game’s greats to thrive in a total state of remission.