Eminem Relapse

[Aftermath/Interscope; 2009]

Styles: the same ol’ Eminem steez
Others: Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, D12

Leo Tolstoy, the Russian author, once wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” What Tolstoy established (with Anna Karenina) over 130 years ago -- that these unhappy families inspirit the most interesting artistic works -- Eminem continues to validate today. In fact, Eminem’s finest art has been inspired by familial dysfunction and grief. Whether it be his sadistic relationship with on-and-off-again wife Kimberley Anne Scott (The Marshall Mathers LP's “Kim”); his vitriolic relationship with his mother, Debbie Mathers Briggs (The Eminem Show’s “Cleanin’ Out My Closet”); or his melancholic relationship with daughter Hailie Scott (Encore’s “Mockingbird”), Eminem has often (albeit erratically) demonstrated an uncanny ability to produce affective, interesting, and popular art from pain and remorse. It should come as no surprise then that the Mathers -- the most uniquely unhappy family in pop music -- play an important role on Eminem’s latest album, Relapse.

Notably, it is Eminem’s parents -- the by-now familiarly doped-up Mom and MIA Dad -- who take center stage. On “My Mom,” Eminem sings about his psychotropic bond with his mother: “My mom love Valium and lots of drugs, that’s why I am like I am cause I’m like her/ Because my mom love Valium and lots of drugs, that’s why I’m on what I’m on cause I’m my mom.” The thesis, here, is a lesson in Mathers Genetics 101: no matter how hard you try to avoid it, in the end: like mother like son. On “Insane,” even the ghosts of deadbeat fathers past haunt Em: “I was born with a dick in my brain, ya fucked in the head/ My stepfather said that I sucked in the bed/ ‘Till one night he snuck in and said: we’re going out in the back I want my dick sucked in the shed.” The result of this rotten family tree is the fiending, psychotic voice that narrates the album. On the excellent “Must Be The Ganja,” we get the most lucid earful: “Tic tac toe frozen six pack, with exacto, knives/ Strangling wives with big lasso/ Few bags of the grass, zig zags, I'm with the Doc so/ You know how that go.”

This theme of psychosis allows Eminem to put a postmodern spin on Tolstoy’s famous Victorian proverb. Specifically, multiple personality disorder haunts the speaker, leading to unreliability; who is the listener supposed to trust? These multiple personalities are manifested via the most startling aesthetic found on the album: Eminem’s panoply of flows. This spectrum ranges from staccato and psychotic (“3 a.m.”) to slow and melancholic (“Beautiful”) to frantic and comic (“We Made You”). The most interesting use of flow is found on “Same Song and Dance,” on which Eminem spits some of his most cruel and vile lyrics (murdering different female celebrities) in a lazy and detached delivery. The point being two-fold: murder is the equivalent to ennui for a Mathers, and not to trust the feelings of this speaker. By expounding on this old, familiar theme (think: the diverse personalities of Eminem, Slim Shady, and Marshall Mathers on previous albums), Eminem most clearly demonstrates his growth as a rapper.

Unfortunately, the goodwill that Eminem builds up with these engrossing and macabre Mathers family confessions are too often torn down by his tedious turns as a goofy court jester. Where a decade ago, Eminem’s satirical shots at celebrities were at times genuinely humorous and novel, in this day-and-age of Perez Hilton and TMZ jokes about Jessica Simpson’s weight and celebrity relationships feel tired and passé. Even worse, Eminem often picks the same old targets (Christopher Reeve, Mariah Carey). Such lazy stooping to the lowest common denominator is simply unacceptable for a storyteller as clearly talented as Eminem.

One cannot help but wonder what could have been had Eminem not so often veered away from the interesting overriding thematic arcs found on Relapse of psychosis, drugs, and Mathers genetics. He may have been able to delve deeper into these themes answering, for instance, what will the effects of these genetics be on Hailie? And, what is Kim’s (who is largely ignored) role in all of this? The answers may be found on the forthcoming Relapse 2, but judged on its own, the hit-and-miss quality of Eminem’s latest work positions it closer to the inferior (Encore) rather than superior (The Marshall Mathers LP) end of his discography.

1. Dr. West (skit)
2. 3 A.M.
3. My Mom
4. Insane
5. Bagpipes From Baghdad
6. Hello
7. "Tonya (skit)
8. Same Song & Dance
9. We Made You
10. Medicine Ball
11. Paul" (skit)
12. Stay Wide Awake
13. Old Time's Sake (featuring Dr. Dre)
14. Must Be the Ganja
15. Mr. Mathers
16. Déjà Vu
17. Beautiful
18. Crack a Bottle (featuring Dr. Dre and 50 Cent)
19. Steve Berman (skit)
20. Underground/ Ken Kaniff

Most Read