Eminem's finest album since 'The Marshall Mathers LP'...
Jason Gregory

16:30 18th May 2009

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Of all the reports which speculated as to why Eminem had disappeared from music following the release of his 2005 greatest hits album 'Curtain Call', none proved as bizarre as a story that emerged in January 2008 under the headline: 'Eminem - Not Slim Anymore; Big Health Scare!' The rapper, sources claimed, had become such a recluse that he only ventured from his Detroit home to satisfy a burgeoning take-out addiction. To add juice to the story, the rapper's estranged mother, Debbie Nelson, was quoted as saying her son was no longer a Slim Shady but a 14.5 stone man on the verge of serious health problems. Suddenly, it seemed, that after years of ridiculing the tabloid press, Eminem had become its latest victim.

The reality, of course, was much darker. After experimenting socially with prescription drugs, the rapper had actually become addicted to them to such an extent he could no longer write. “It was the worst case of writer's block,” he recalled about the period in a recent interview. Eminem's drug problems, which remained unsolved after a visit to rehab in the summer of 2005, were compounded a year later by the death of his best friend and fellow D12 member Proof. It seemed that while he was not quite the Taco Bell obsessive portrayed by red tops, Eminem had certainly become a shadow of his former self – a man lost in drugs and, at his own admission, close to suicide.

As the title suggests, 'Relapse', the rapper's fifth album, recounts this period – or, more explicitly, the feeling of coming out the other side of it. Eminem, now one year sober, sounds revitalised and hungry again: each rhyme is projected with the same unrelenting dark humour that categorised his critically acclaimed debut album, 1999's 'The Slim Shady LP' and its 2001 follow-up 'The Marshall Mathers LP'.

It helps, of course, that after two visits to rehab (the second of which, in 2008, proved successful) in the last four years, Eminem has a lot to draw from. 'Must Be The Ganga' is a light-hearted recollection of getting high in the studio, while the lacerated 'My Mom' sees him blame his addiction to prescription drugs on his upbringing. “Valium was in everything, food that I ate, the water that I drank, fuckin' peas on my plate,” Eminem spits, before adding that his mother is “why I'm on, what I'm on, 'cause I'm My Mom.” Elsewhere, 'Same Song and Dance' and '3AM', the latter of which sees Eminem go on a brutal killing spree, mark the return of his shockingly graphic, but brilliant craft for fictional storytelling.  

Another return of note is that of Dr Dre, who as producer on all but one of the album's tracks has given 'Relapse' – and Eminem – the room to breath. Together, on 'Old Time's Sake', for example, the pair sound, as the song's title suggests, liberated to be in each other's company again. “So one more time for old time's sake, Dre drop that beat and scratch that break,” Eminem says profoundly, sounding in full flow.

Perhaps understandably for an album made after a five year break, 'Relapse' is not without its flaws. 'Crack A Bottle' and 'We Made You', which points a wagging finger at contemporary celebrities (most notably, Amy and Blake), are the kind of lead singles that we've come to be expect from Eminem, but this time they sound misplaced on an often painful album about drug addiction.

Yet cast these aside and you're left with Eminem's finest release since 'The Marshall Mathers LP'. An album where the rapper finally casts a candid spotlight of truth on the unanswered questions raised during his years in the wilderness. Eminem, it seems, is once again left to have the final word.

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