Can you remember there being less excitement around a new Eminem album than there is around Relapse? The anticipation and appetite for Mathers's sixth album haven't exactly been eager, despite – or because of – the fact that it's his first in five years.
Which is odd, because it's the equal of anything else he's done, and there are many constants: he's revived the alter ego of Slim Shady, and he's still, in equal measure, hugely talented and intensely irritating. There's a darker edge to this one, however. It's hardly surprising, after a spell in which he lost his friend and D-12 colleague Proof, became addicted to prescription meds, went into rehab and considered suicide. Rather than emerge solemn and sermonising, Mathers has, with the possible exception of "Déjà Vu" (a fairly serious depiction of his struggles with alcoholism), opted instead for sick humour.
The cover is a composite picture of his head made from pills instead of pixels; the disc itself instructs you to "Push Down & Turn", and the opening skit (starring Dominic West from The Wire) involves a gleeful drug-pushing doctor. Some things never change.
He's still feuding with his mother (blaming his addictions on hers, with lines such as "Wait a minute, this isn't dinner/This is paint stripper..."), and going one step further by revealing that he was sexually abused by his stepdad ("Insane").
Then there are the grim topics of his (hopefully) fictional tales, such as nightmarish current single "3am" in which he portrays a serial killer and quotes The Silence of the Lambs ("it puts the lotion on..."), "Medicine Ball", in which he forcibly performs a home abortion, and "Same Song & Dance", in which he inhabits the character of a rapist who's stalking Britney Spears.
Celebrity references are as frequent as they ever were, and it's exec- produced by Dr Dre, a safe pair of hands without offering anything groundbreaking these days, falling back on classic rock samples (Queen, Metallica) and parping big-band brass for comic bathos. It's Eminem's undeniable ear for the "music" of the language ("I'm just a hooligan who's used to using hallucinogens..."), however, which ensures that – love him or hate him – the real Slim Shady still stands up.