By Joseph Viney
We all know the routine by now: “Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?”, “Hi, my name is…”. The man who’s first two major-label albums were eponymous has always been keen to introduce and re-introduce himself to his audience. After the first two albums, both of which were savage, rhythmic and dazzlingly coherent, Eminem descended into something of a rough patch.
He aimed his ire at George Bush and the War On Terror (Mosh), conflicts between fellow rappers (Like Toy Soldiers) and finally lapsed into some truly dreadful self-referential work that bordered on parody (Just Lose It, Without Me). After the tired efforts of the previous two LPs Encore and Relapse, surely the time is right for the comeback of the man who caused such a storm of controversy when he was turned loose on the mainstream consciousness?
Disappointingly, there are more things wrong with Recovery then there are right with it. It could be argued that this LP is a transitional effort, the musical version of a bike with stabilisers, but for an artist who has shown the heights he can reach and how effectively he uses words as a weapon there should be no room for transitional records.
Eminem’s penchant for cultural references is tired and beaten to death here. Michael Jackson, one of his more regular targets, is dug from his grave and mocked. Michael J. Fox is mentioned twice within the first four songs; making fun of a man stricken with Parkinson’s disease is neither big nor indeed clever. One of his more reliable and safe fall-backs, his mother, is dusted off once more and cops more flak for a poor childhood and resulting adulthood anger and frustration. Opener Cold Wind Blows contains all three aforementioned references alongside some rather cringe worthy uses of expletives.
Self-deprecation was always the name of the game for Eminem and he has never been afraid to highlight his own problems and poke fun at his image and personality, but the album is weighed down by a very maudlin sense of apology. On Talkin’ 2 Myself he immediately apologises to his followers (“Encore I was on drugs, Relapse I was flushing them out…”) and it seems that on every track he’s apologising for himself, his music, his personal life and just about everything else in the world. The album suffers as a consequence; Eminem is at his peak when his anger and confusion is pointed towards his contemporaries or society in general.
One huge misfire is Going Through Changes, a ballad with an unnecessary Black Sabbath sample as the song’s centrepiece. It’s bad enough that Sabbath’s Changes was mutilated by a laughable cover duet between Ozzy and his daughter Kelly, but now it’s been thrown in this album in what seems like a last-minute decision. The song would have benefited from its absence overall. Much the same can be said of No Love which is festooned with a perplexing sample of Haddway’s 1993 hit What Is Love? Similarly the sample of R.E.M.’s Drive on Space Bound is equally pointless.
Recovery is less a solo record than a collaborative effort. Across the 15 tracks there are 17 different producers (usual cohort Dr. Dre having been reduced to just one production credit this time around), yet despite all of this help (some may call it interference) there is nothing musically that stands out. Most of the rhythms, beats and instrumentation are flat, formulaic and uninspiring. Recovery also features three heavyweight cameos from Pink (Won’t Back Down), Lil Wayne (No Love) and Rihanna (Love The Way You Lie); three stars arguably at the peak of their pop powers. Years ago there would have been a time where every pop musician and rapper, from the best to the worst, would have been begging to guest on an Eminem album. Now, however, you suspect the aforementioned three are doing Eminem a favour; giving him an in-road to the ears of a new generation of music buyers who may even see Eminem as a spent relic already.
Recovery contains nothing to show that the Eminem of old has returned to the peak of his powers. It is missing the savage but controlled words of his first two efforts, the humour of the D12 albums and the fire that propelled his career early on. Now he seems like somebody who is desperately trying to reclaim his old position; too many pointless words are spouted on Recovery and the vast majority of them miss their mark. The real Slim Shady can do no more than sit down these days.
4 OUT OF 10