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CD Review

Eminem's 'Relapse' is aptly named

Eminem releases his first album after a four-year absence. Eminem releases his first album after a four-year absence. (Karin Catt/ Interscope via Associated Press)
By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / May 18, 2009
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Before the pills, before one of his best friends died, before he decided to hole up for four years, Eminem was already bored with rap. You could hear it in his verses right before he went into hiding.

"The game just isn't the same, it's changing/ Dre's quittin', Jay's quittin'/ Now it's just gangstas just sayin' the same [expletive]/ It's ancient, it's fake/ And it's makin' me so bored, I'ma just make a new language."

Hence the name of the song: "Fubba U Cubba Cubba." He was like the classroom prodigy with the attention span problem.

Eminem has changed in the four years between his last album, "Encore," and the one that will reintroduce him to pop culture tomorrow, "Relapse." He's loved pills and hated rehab. He put on pounds, then ran them off. He went through a spell where he was too depressed to rap, then he got into a zone and pumped out this album and a follow-up supposedly to be released later this year.

What hasn't changed, though, is the content, which is the frustrating dilemma about Eminem that only gets more obvious after being away so long. "Relapse," flooded with more Dr. Dre beats than any other Eminem album, is easily better than "Encore" but nowhere close to his first three albums, because he doesn't try anything particularly different.

On "Déjà vu," when you hear the sirens sound as a distressed dispatcher describes an overdose scene while Dr. Dre's drums clap behind loathing guitar riffs and Eminem comes in to rhyme everything that was wrong with his drug addiction, it actually reminds you of everything you heard him say on "The Slim Shady LP."

It's a flash of excitement that gets drowned out by his redundant go-to bits. Christopher Reeve is dead. He's been dead since 2004. It doesn't stop Eminem from keeping the running joke going, on "Medicine Ball." This time Reeve gets a word in, but still . . .

Debbie Mathers, his (alleged) drug-abusing mother, has been Eminem's piñata for 10 years now, but six minutes in he's rapping about "My Mom." This time Eminem admits he's no better than she is, but still . . .

Every time there's any buzz that Eminem's working on new material, people wonder whether he can make a genuine rap classic. Eminem could walk to the fridge and make a verse out of those little word magnets: Cardboard. Hardcore. Gravitate. Salivate. Glass of wine. Asinine. No other rapper has a better command of the language. It's like he's got strings attached to each syllable. But he falls back on bashing celebrities like it's his coping mechanism.

To a degree, Eminem now almost seems out of place in a genre where the biggest rappers don't have gimmicks and instead have "swagger" - an almost equally annoying concept - and where some of the most popular rappers can't really rap.

Eminem making a comeback now is like Mike Tyson returning to the ring or Frank Lucas to the streets and finding things completely different than when he left. Eminem's talent hasn't changed, but the world he's returning to has.