Eminem's latest album is called Recovery, but a better title might have been Resurrection.
On his seventh studio release, Eminem has finally returned to form, which is to say he's obnoxious, misogynistic, violent and often hurtful, but through it all, rarely short of brilliant.
After his last album, 2009's Relapse, many wondered whether rap's most successful and perhaps most talented rapper would ever do anything to merit the tag "brilliant" again. Relapse was a painful listen, with Eminem trying to recapture his former glory after four years off battling drug addiction. For Eminem, that meant an album that consisted mostly of tired insults and violent imagery without any of the wit that once accompanied it, making it charmless, humorless and forgettable.
Even Eminem acknowledges as much on Recovery, taking potshots at an album he now calls "trash"; on Not Afraid, he says, "Let's be honest that last Relapse CD was ehh/perhaps I ran them accents into the ground, relax/I ain't goin' back to that now."
What Eminem goes back to are the best elements that made him such a groundbreaking rapper when he made his debut over a decade ago: sick but hilarious humor; clever, biting lyrics and great storytelling. There is also more of Marshall Mathers than we've ever seen before on Recovery -- and that's a good thing.
Just as he did with a few songs on Relapse, Eminem details his painful battle with drug abuse with harrowing detail. But on Recovery, he gets even more personal, which makes his stories even more striking and heartfelt. On the gripping Going Through Changes, Eminem depicts his miserable existence: grief-stricken over the killing of rapper and best friend Proof; addled by drugs and hating what he's become -- while his daughter watches his decline. "Yeah dad's in a bad mood, he's always snappin at you/Marshall, what's happened that you/can't stop with these pills and your fallin off with yer skills and your own fans are laughing at you?"
The best tracks on the album delve into Eminem's troubled psyche. On Talking 2 Myself, he lashes out at himself for his jealousy over rappers who have overshadowed him (such as Lil Wayne and Kanye West) while his drug troubles have left the one-time rap champ punch-drunk. And on 25 to Life, he even attacks the love of his life who has tormented him for the last time -- not Kim, his ex-wife and favorite target, but hip-hop.
Space Bound is a disturbing yet captivating song about a fatal attraction, and the excellent Love the Way You Lie deftly chronicles a violent, volatile relationship; having Rihanna, who has been there, sing the chorus makes it even more poignant, and a bit chilling. The tales Eminem tells are gripping, and his delivery is so razor-sharp he even outshines Lil Wayne on their collaboration, No Love.
While there are elements of the crazy, irreverent Slim Shady on the CD -- especially with W.T.P. ( White Trash Party) -- Eminem is not trying to go be the rapper he was on Without Me or The Real Slim Shady, which is good. You can only play a character so much before it becomes a caricature.
What's best about Recovery is that Eminem has emerged from the bleakness not only restored, but improved -- and renewed.