Eminem made his initial mark in the music world by brandishing his scars from hitting rock bottom, but the innards of fame were what ultimately brought the Detroit-bred MC to the lowest of lows. Nearly meeting his demise at the hands of a lethal drug addiction, Em climbed back in the Hip-Hop ring to spew out Relapse, a wacked-out skills exhibition set that masked his eternal pain through the guise of the Slim Shady lampoon. Done flirting with the make believe, Eminem faces the music with Recovery, an album which realistically marks the first Marshall Mathers LP heard in some time.
Recovery also marks a beginning in another aspect. It signifies the first time Eminem has recorded an album free of the poison which, for better or worse, has affected the music he presented to the masses over the past two decades. Gone are the zany antics of a slapstick single, sadistic humor with nary an interlude or ad-lib to boot. Most songs overlap the traditional sixteen bars with angst-filled barrages of open frustration and excessive yelling steering the delivery. Familiar territory does exist, though. Slim breaks the ice with an acerbic tongue, cutting into Michael J. Fox and cotton-soft competition on the Just Blaze-produced “Cold Wind Blows” as well as playing hot potato with his flow inside the thrashing energy of “Won’t Back Down.”
Biting attacks aside, The Shady One dignifies himself as a rap master, wooing ladies from their beaus with his slick wordplay over hypnotizing snares on “Seduction” and gives his most definite explanation yet through patches of altruism to make “Going Through Changes” an instant winner. “Not Afraid,” the nucleus of the album’s theme, stands firm as a suitable lead single. His testimony “It was my decision to get clean/I did it for me/Admittedly/I probably did it subliminally for you/So I could come back a brand new me/you helped see me through/And don’t even realize what you did/because believe me you…” rings bright with candid splendor as if to forcibly convince those who feel otherwise.
No one said deinstitutionalisation was an easy process and Em’s obsessive fixation with proving himself as a formidable battle rapper exposes his vulnerability in picking enamored production. An ex-junkie recounting his missteps doesn’t rank high on shock value and as a direct result, Recovery’s production is low on voltage and melodic versatility. Messy rock hybrids with digital guitar licks as found on “Almost Famous” and “Space Bound” overwhelm with repetitiveness in vibe and subject matter. The stilted keyboard-driven befuddlement on “Talkin’ 2 Myself” manages to avoid a subconscious burial only by Em’s revelation of being a millisecond away from sending diss records towards Kanye West and Lil Wayne (who later appears as a consolation on the rhyming faceoff “No Love”).
His intentions are earnest but the dejected tonal qualities of a “25 to Life” teter the lines of clinical depression opposed to a galvanized rap record. The anguished “Love The Way You Lie,” shouldered by an equally painful Rihanna hook, is more of the same but Alex da Kid injects a tinge of pop into the beat’s core to give it some spunk. Eminem’s lyricism can salvage any record but his verbiage alone doesn’t make the complete package.
Sobriety takes some getting used to and Marshall isn’t immune to a few stumbles through his moment of clarity. Flushed out and optimistic about his future, Recovery symbolizes a cathartic experience that should propel Eminem back to an elite pedestal in musical quality.