On 2004's Encore, Eminem appeared to have grown up considerably, exhibiting an unsuspected political acuity on "Mosh", his devastating indictment of Bush's Iraq crusade and apologising for any racial or sexual slurs he may have previously voiced in anger.
Even his on/off wife Kim – the same Kim he fictionally "murdered" on his first album – was tenderly celebrated as a beloved if incompatible muse. He had seemingly become a responsible parent, with adult concerns.
The reaction in hip-hop quarters bordered on outrage, particularly since several Encore tracks dismissed the culture of rap rivalries and slanging-matches as infantile animosity which too often escalated fatally. It was as if Eminem were betraying the whole genre, given his alleged desire to move in a more mainstream rock direction.
Five years on, and he's taken several steps backward with Relapse, which might be more aptly titled Rehash, so uninspiredly does it reprise the bonehead horror-comic fantasies of his debut. Slim Shady, the alter-ego supposedly killed off at the conclusion of Encore, returns to dominate another albumful of homicidal fantasies and allegations of sexual abuse and parental drug addiction - although the former claim in "Insane" may be just a legally-dubious extension of the lyrical conceit that the rapper is/was "fucked in the head". But sadly, the bleak self-knowledge that illuminated the brilliant Marshall Mathers LP is conspicuous by its absence here, as time and again Eminem returns to the subject of the drug addiction into which he fell following the swift collapse of his remarriage to Kim and the murder of his best friend, rapper DeShaun "Proof" Holton, in 2006.
Again, his mom is to blame for his failings: "My mom loved Valium and lots of drugs, that's why I'm on what I'm on, 'cos I'm like her" he bleats on "My Mom".
Even that, however, is more bearable than the tedious string of serial-killer stories and misogynist fantasies which dominate this interminable album, from the bodies littering his floor in the opening "3am" to the hitch-hiker he strangles in "Same Song And Dance", and the references to Ted Bundy and Friday The 13th slasher Jason in "Stay Wide Awake".
The album quickly becomes drably repetitive, while its dated tone is emphasised by the return of Dr Dre as producer. Only the single "Crack The Bottle" has any real style and swagger, while the other redeeming moments arrive late on, in the form of the overdose account "Déjà Vu" and "Beautiful", in which the depressed rapper again contemplates his retirement from hip-hop... after the release of Relapse 2 later this year. Don't hold your breath.
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