On Dr. Dre's latest prescription drug

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I haven’t done any album/movie reviews here because (a) nobody cares what a random blogger thinks and (b) why else are popular publications like Rolling Stone etc in business? They are the ones whose reviews shape the general reception of any movie or album that finds its way into theatres or stores. If you want to know whether you want to buy it or whether it’s worth a dekko, you’ll be better off reading what they think of it.

Anyway, the album is question is Eminem’s Relapse. It’s been four years since an Em record went on the shelf, and it’s most obviously an extremely important album for his biggest fans as well as people who hate him the most. The former group wants to know whether that magic and madness in his rhymes is still alive and kicking. The latter want to have another shot at belittling him. And truth be told, I myself wasn’t too optimistic when I listened to the first two singles from Relapse to have been released – 'Crack a Bottle’ and ‘We Made You’.

That skepticism changed for good once I listened to the rest of the album (‘Never has there been so much finesse and nostalgia’, as Em asserts in ‘We Made You’). For me, the first two singles were the weakest in the album – ‘Crack A Bottle’ with 50 Cent and Dr. Dre sure became the most downloaded song of all time, but didn’t exactly set my trousers on fire – it was nothing special. And as far as ‘We Made You’ is concerned, it’s a pale shadow of probably the best parody-rap song of all time, ‘The Real Slim Shady’. This one doesn’t even come close. The beats and chorus are okay, but Em’s accent in the song is annoying and the rhymes jar at places. The video was a good laugh, though.

But the rest of the album is at least as good as Encore, if not better. It’s vintage Eminem all over again. With ‘Dr. West’, there is a sinister (and homophobic, as the critics would spit) tone set for the album which is taken to an even scarier and gorier level with ‘3 AM’, whose music video was banned from being aired on TV, because it was deemed ‘unfit for TV audiences’. The TV regulatory bodies could have given themselves a break. Who cares these days when you have Youtube?

‘My Mom’ sees Em take the road he’s travelled so many times – he trains his hellfire on his mother, blaming her for what he is today (That's why I'm on, what I'm on, 'cause I'm My Mom!). ‘Insane’ is one of the best – and the probably the most cringe-inducing song in the album. He talks about his childhood experiences with his stepfather, which were anything but pleasant, and his mother’s constant indifference to the same (If you could count the skeletons in my closet/Under my bed and up under my faucet/Then you would know I've completely lost it/Is he nuts? No, he’s insane). ‘Bagpipes from Baghdad’ has been in the news to the barbs Em’s directed at Mariah Carey and her husband Nick Cannon, but it’s much better than a page three story, the Arabic Rhythm surprisingly works with the Dre beats and of course, Em’s rhymes.

‘Hello’ makes you smile at the start (Hello.../Allow me to introduce myself.../My name is, Shady/It's so nice to meet you/It's been a long time/Sorry I've been away so long/My name is, Shady/I never meant to leave you). The song is decent enough as well. In ‘Same Song and Dance’, he realizes how oft-repeated and flogged the jokes and disses about the current music scene generally are. ‘Medicine Ball’ has the references to Christopher Reeve, and has come in for a lot of flak, but towards the fag end of the track, Reeve has his own back – “Eminem, I'm coming to kill you, always hated you and I still do /You'll never fill my shoes, my Superman costume/Doesn't even fit you, they don't feel you/You're taking this shit too far, who do you think you are?”. This track is also among the better ones. ‘Stay Wide Awake’ also has an extremely dark, murder-ly and manslaughter-ly theme to it. Works. ‘Old Times’ Sake’ is a sort of nostalgic trip, and Em along with Dre really rocks this number (So one more time for old time's sake/Dre drop that beat and scratch that break). Dr. Dre’s beats and Em’s rhymes come together perfectly in this track.

‘Must be the Ganja’ revisits the drug theme, and by this time, Em has already introduced zillions of drugs, almost as if he is reading off the inventory list of a pharmaceutical corporation(Valium, Zantac, Nyquill, Vicodin, Klonopin, Hydrocodone, Ambien, Xanax, Formula 44d, Percodan, Lunesta, they’re all here). ‘Mr. Mathers’ has medics tending to a passed-out Eminem, and the next track ‘Déjà vu’ talks about him falling ‘deeper into a manic state’. ‘Beautiful’ is a surprisingly pleasing track, with a mellow chorus, and Em’s voice is used for proper singing in the chorus lines. Here he’s on about how difficult it was for him to get out of the drug problems and the extreme depression that had encumbered him in the recent past. It was extremely tough, but like he says, ‘But I need that spark to get psyched back up, in order for me to pick the mic back up’. Em’s pen still hasn’t lost any of its ability to stir the emotions. Some of my favourite lines are from this song:

"In my shoes, just to see, what it's like to be me
I'll be you, let's trade shoes, just to see what it'd be like to
Feel your pain, you feel mine, go inside each other’s minds
Just to see, what we find, look at shit through each other’s eyes
But don't let them say you ain't beautiful
They can all get fucked, just stay true to you
Don't let them say you ain't beautiful
They can all get fucked, just stay true to you"

His long-time antagonist Steve Berman makes a comeback in the nineteenth track of the album, and this time, he sums things up as far as Em’s critics are concerned: “Let me guess, another album about poor me, I'm so famous that it's ruined my rich little life, and I'm such a tortured artist. Let me make music about it and my tragic love life, am I on to something here? … Big selfish superstar (Steve, I had a drug problem) Oh poor me, I had a drug problem. Who hasn't had a drug problem in this town?” The twentieth track on the album is ‘Underground’, which draws the curtains on a worthy comeback by Slim Shady – Obviously, like all Shady albums, this one’s also a love-it or hate-it compilation. If you hate it, you obviously shouldn’t have listened to it in the first place. People who are quick to dismiss this as a rehash of his previous work, think again. This is what he does best, and in Relapse he takes off where Encore left. Nobody does this better, and in most of the songs, the target is Eminem himself. His pen’s acerbic and biting wit is still there, and the rhymes still pack more than a punch. It’s that time again, as Em says in ‘Medicine Ball’:

“I said I guess it's time for you to hate me again
Let's begin, now hand me the pen
How should I begin it, and where does it all end
My medicine ball, you're in my medicine ball friends”

The lines that usually announce Shady’s comebacks are conspicuous by their absence in Relapse, and so I absolutely had to end this with those very lines.

“Guess who’s back, back again?
Shady’s back, tell a friend.”

He’s back. And how! Good to see you back at it, Em! And here's hoping the next album is an even bigger step up.


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