Five years after the release of his last album, Eminem has emerged from his fortress of solitude with an Oprah-ready tale of addiction, depression, and grief followed by recovery, sobriety, and a renewed sense of purpose. The older-and-wiser Eminem was apparently so rife with inspiration that a single album couldn’t contain his deep thoughts, so a sequel to Relapse is due later this year. Don’t believe the hype: Judging by Relapse, Eminem kicked pills and alcohol and emerged from a cocoon of despair so he could make hacky, borderline novelty songs filled with puerile one-liners about disposable pop-culture ephemera.
The asinine quips about insta-celebs (boy, those Kim Kardashian and Amy Winehouse gags are going to age like fine wine) that define the groaningly awful single “We Made You” permeate the entire album; it’s all about facile pre-adolescent shock mixed with gory, corpse-strewn, Fangoria-damaged horrorcore. Eminem is once again lost in a sinister funhouse of memory and regret, blasting away at old skeletons and resurrecting formative traumas, but songs like “My Mom” feel like smudgy three-generation Xeroxes.
Eminem drops the increasingly ridiculous “Ain’t I a stinker? Can you believe what I just said?” pose for the album’s two best and most serious songs: “Déjà Vu” gets deep inside the psyche of a recovering addict trying to tame poisonous inner voices, while “Beautiful” explores the emptiness and alienation of fame. Dr. Dre’s production soars on “Bagpipes Over Baghdad,” “Insane,” and “My Mom,” but Eminem’s regressive lyrical concerns drag the songs back to Earth. It’s both sad and telling that “Crack A Bottle” brings together 50 Cent, Eminem, and Dr. Dre for a song with a chorus that begins, “So crack a bottle / Let your body waddle / Don’t act like a snobby model / You just won the lotto.” Em had to get clean for this? Relapse is goofy and playful without being fun or funny. It’s less a relapse than a rehash, less a comeback album than the kind of album artists need to come back from. Of course, it’s always possible that Eminem is saving his best songs, but at this point, that Relapse sequel is looking more like a threat than a promise.