Yesterday was Drake Day so I spent all day protesting by listening to my copy of Recovery. At this point, I've listened to it at least five full times, and thus, feel good about making some broad statements.
First of all, this is a good album. Eminem finally comes out and makes a real rap record, like people have been waiting more than half a decade for. On the other hand, there are definitely some missteps. The fact that "Cold Wind Blows" opens this album and not "Talkin' 2 Myself" feels like the opposite of what should have been done. "Talkin' 2 Myself" is the perfect opening track. I mean, pitch perfect. "Cold Wind Blows", though, turns into a decent track after the first 30-second intro, which is bizarrely off-putting. That's the first thing he wanted people to hear on his new album? It makes no sense!
After that, though, things start to get great. "On Fire" has got some great combination of old Slim Shady and new Eminem. He jokingly talks about his heat in the rap game, but it's not really a joke. He knows that he's produced some shit in the last few years (the great references to Relapse on this album have to be one of the most honest things that have ever come out of his mouth) but unlike on Relapse, he's not obsessing about it. It's a few quick acknowledgments, and then moving on. Another great thing about "On Fire" as well as the whole album is the numerous comic book references. He's always been on those lines, but it feels like he's more comfortable talking about comics now that they're mega-popular. But that's just me.
"Won't Back Down" isn't nearly as bad as it sounded when it was first leaked, with Pink pulling major duty as the gruff hook singer. I've already heard this song taking its place in commercials, replacing the earlier "Till I Collapse" as the default pump-up jam for shooting people on TV. I expect I'll hear this on warm-up mixes of the basketball teams next year. And that's not a bad thing for what it is. (Plus, Em gets credit for refusing to ride the Drake train of dropping words. He's putting in maybe more than needed, but it's still better. For instance, see: "Listen garden tool, don't make me introduce you to my power tool, you know the fuckin' drill" and "I gave Bruce Wayne a Valium and said settle your fucking ass down, I'm ready for combat, man. Get it? Com-Bat-Man?")
"W.T.P." is another banger that doesn't say a lot, other than a re-affirmation that Eminem is a solid rapper, putting together words in a way that few of his peers can match. It feels like Em's attempt to get a record other than a single played in a club, and I could see it succeeding, but I wouldn't particularly love that. It's a solid song, but not noteworthy.
"Going Through Changes" is one of the two most overt cuts on the album talking about Proof and what he meant to Mr. Mathers. Humanizing in a good way, with a great line about realizations that he's had since then about the drug dealers who were propping him up as yes men. After that, we get "Not Afraid", about which I think enough has been written, but if I can just add my two cents: this song is getting better and better with time. When it dropped, I was excited. When it comes on the album, I'm like, "Whoah." "Seduction", on the other hand, is just another volley in the Mariah Carey war, and, while there are some good parts to the beat and the song, it's essentially filler. I'm okay with that, really, since there are no skits on here, but the album would be stronger without this shit.
"No Love" was a real controversy in my head, though. First of all, let's get this out of the way: Em and Lil' Wayne together on a song equals destruction. They killed it on "Forever", the smashed on "Drop the World" and "No Love" is no different. Something about Wayne (probably what Slim acknowledged on "Talkin' 2 Myself"?) brings out the absolute best in Eminem. However, Just Blaze must have thought long and hard about the sample for this song. At the end of the day, it works out, but people might be turned off on first mention.
"Space Bound" and "Cinderella Man" seem grouped together for a reason, and it's kind of a weird one. These songs, really, to me, sound like what people might have thought of in the late '90s or early '00s when they thought, "Eminem in the future." They're different enough, yet retain that essential Eminem-quality of his confessionals to still be recognizable. "Space Bound" begins the explicit phase of the album where Em starts to get into the heartaches that have haunted his life, even aside from Proof. "Cinderella Man" talks about getting over those heartaches. They're a great duo.
"25 to Life" can really be seen as completing the afore-mentioned duo, I guess making it a trio, but Em pulls a dodge at the last second: instead of calling her Kim, he fakes that he's talking about hip-hop. This is okay (it certainly doesn't do anything terrible to the song, I mean, it's a jam, no doubt) not damning, but it belies the growth that he's shown us. When Encore dropped and everyone figured he was taking a bow goodbye, he denied it. If he's still denying things, he's still got room to grow. Not that that's a bad thing. All these shots shouldn't take away from the main point, though: this is one of the best tracks on the album.
"So Bad" brings Dre front and center! It's a perfect Dre and Em combo with the latter in ideal braggadocio mode. The beat that it starts with, that joking-Em voice he intros with, talking about his dad again, the metaphors and the sound effects are all vintage.
"Almost Famous" returns to the angry Slim Shady that we were once introduced to, with pretty good reason: he's recounting his journey. We have him talking about being a rapist, Slim Roethlisberger, and waving a chainsaw like a terrible towel. We have his honest recollections of how hard he worked to become the celebrity he is, and the chorus echoing every time we get a break, warning him of the consequences that he didn't see until it was too late. This is the basic character of Eminem: the two sides of him, wanting opposite things, fighting just as hard against himself as he does against everyone else.
"Love the Way You Lie" might be the best song Eminem's ever recorded. It seems like he heard Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind", realized what Rihanna could do for this song, and poured out his own emotional version. He's not singing an ode to a city, though, that has never been his style and never will be. Instead, we get this honest kind of reconciliation of the self-destructive relationship he and Kim always had. (Some of Eminem's best music has always been this acknowledgment ["Crazy in Love", "Soldier", "Kim", "'97 Bonnie & Clyde"] that he and Kim might actually kill each other, but not on purpose.) Their relationship was poison to each other, to themselves and to all of the people around them. But, sometimes, we can't help with whom we fall in love.
"Never Over" closes the album (kind of) by talking, again, directly, about Proof. The single best thing about Eminem's openness about his relationship with Proof and the way that he expresses it on this album is that he never once says pause or no homo. This is a guy who was with Marshall from the very beginning, who had his back when no one else really did and it's clear that losing him jacked Em up a lot more than he has acknowledged yet - even including this album.
"Here We Go" is untitled, but came tagged that way with my copy so that's what I'm calling it until I hear something different. This track, honestly, might be the best one on the entire album. It's reminiscent of "Rabbit Run" from the 8 Mile soundtrack in that he just sounds like he's got non-stop energy that could go all day every day. This is what I think of when I think of Eminem unleashed. I wish we could get an album of just this - Dre-produced (or at least sounding like it) bangers with Em just killing on top. Some pop references included, that's fine (great line about his car being a Mogwai and turning into a Gremlin and a reference to Troy Polamalu) but not much more.
Some general notes: 1. There are tons of mentions of Proof on this disc. That's a great thing, because it's a good way of showing people the pain that he felt over his best friend dying, without beating it into the ground, like he did on Recovery. I know I mentioned this already, but I'm proud of the so-called homophobe for putting all that out there without so much as a no homo. We need more honesty about the relationships between men without the fear. 2. Michael J. Fox has got to be his new Christopher Reeve obsession. (Which doesn't mean he's abandoned Superman.) 3. While I have absolutely, positively no problem with any of the beats and/or production on this album, it definitely felt like it was missing Dre. While "So Bad" definitely feels like Dre-approved material, it's telling that the track that most feels like it was produced by Dre is the untitled ("Here We Go"?) track that closes the album, which was actually done by Havoc. 4. I want that 'Lil Wayne and Kanye diss track.
Recovery marks a great new stage for Eminem. He's still much the same man he's always been, the one we've come to know who hates his fame, but wants the recognition for being one of the best in the game. I have no idea what he's going to do from here. (He needs to get Dre back in the studio and make sure Detox doesn't suck as bad as "Under Pressure" makes it seem like it's going to!) But if this is the last thing we get from him, it'll be a fitting capstone. If it's truly a new beginning, I'm excited to see what more he does.