Listening to Relapse, the new Eminem album, is like reading a book, watching a movie, hearing a tale — a whole theatrework in one rotating plastic disc. Move over pretentious, eye-rolling rock opera. This is Marshall Mathers on Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht mode from the padded cell of a recording studio.
Right from the start, Eminem makes sure we know that he’s taking us behind the curtains of a Grand Guignol. The small intro even before the songs start plonk us, leather straps and all, in front of the stage. Marshall Mathers is about to be discharged by his shrink when he asks him what if he feels the urge to drink again in the company of folks who’re drinking.
The words of advice from the English-accented doc, “Take a drink... take the edge off,” bring no relief. In fact it hurls ‘clean’ Marshall into a hole, with the shrink’s voice warping into what it really is: a voice in Marshall’s head.
This is no Betty Ford Center. As the drum machine rolls out the tinny message, “There is no escaping/There is no place to hide...”, we know we’re not even in a self-referential Amy Winehouse world of booze snookering booze. Eminem is the madman Renfield in an addict’s version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula — but with Bela Lugosi’s cloak firmly propped on.
In 3 a.m., the pump comes from a guy who’s walking into his room at three o’clock in the morning to find a pile of bodies inside. “I don’t remember how they got there/but I must have killed ‘em, killed ‘em,” is a sorta explanation from a temporary amnesiac. The images are startling, dank —and funny enough to make the listener nervous about what he finds funny.
Eminem doesn’t quite go Oedipal in My mom. Instead, he finds the source of his character’s fondness for pills in his mother’s fondness for the same. “Wait a minute, this ain’t dinner this is paint thinner,” sings-says junior. “You ate it yesterday I ain’t no hear no complaints did I?/Now here’s a plate full of painkillers now wait till I/Crush the valium and put it in your potatoes ya,” comes Mummy’s reply.
Eminem takes on insanity head-on in Insane. This time the character’s mind is egg-beaten by his stepfather — all in jiving double-time. Bagpipes from Baghdad has nothing (I think) to do with that favourite subject of rockintellectuals, the continuing war in Eye-Raq. This ditty’s just about a total wino who can, with enough of sloshing weapons of mass distraction inside him, hear the aforementioned wind instrument from Mesopotamia.
Slim Shady, Eminem’s majestically sinister alter-ego, returns in Hello. He’s Detroit’s Jack the Ripper telling the lady, “Girl, I don’t mean any harm, all I wanted to do is just say hello,” adding a line later, “My equilibrium’s off/must be the lithium.” Now that’s what I call a bad date.
Vol. 2. Relapse is a performance of mesmeric proportions where Eminem shows us that he’s at the height of his dramatic powers. It’s laced with much more hip-hop than some of his earlier poppy seeds. It’s also his finest album since the 2000 The Marshall Mathers LP.
The question that’s bothering me, though, is what the %#*& was a Pussycat Dolls CD doing in my shrink-wrapped copy of Relapse?