Sunday, June 14, 2009

Album Review/Sample Set #139: Relapse

No, no, of course I'm not still up at 3 in the morning (although my reputation precedes me... kinda). I just thought it'd be appropriate to post this sample set at 3:00 AM what with all the obvious reasons (hey, have you checked the little details on Relapse's album cover). And I noticed, while digging for these songs, that the content on this sample set - albeit short in length - reflects on instances addressing depression and anxiety. The first single on this album, as noted previously, features a sample of a track by Mike Brant. Who was Mike Brant? Mike Brant, born Moshe Brand, was an Israeli pop singer who achieved success in France with "Mais dans la lumière", the very song sampled on "Crack a Bottle", Relapse's first single. "Mais dans la lumière" was Brant's first hit. By 1973, at the age of 27, Brant was performing at 250 shows per year. Sadly, on November 22, 1974, he committed suicide... unsuccessfully. He jumped out of a hotel window, achieving not death, but many broken bones. In April of 1975, he took his second and final plunge, jumping out of an apartment building in Paris. He had suffered from depression and loneliness. Reading this story a couple of months ago set the tone for my listening experience with this record.

One of my favorite tracks from Em's new album has got to be "Beautiful", a song reminiscent of previous lyrical memoirs like "Sing for the Moment", "When I'm Gone" and "Mockingbird". Like the former, which sampled an Aerosmith cut, "Beautiful" lifts the vocals from a classic rock piece - in fact, a recent concert by Queen and Paul Rodgers. The track is titled "Reaching Out", and it was difficult to track down because I had to find the specific live show it was sampled from. Live in Japan, 2005. Gotcha! The song itself, sung by Paul Rodgers, was written by Don Black and Andy Hill and evokes emotive lyrics injected with somber solace, before the imminent guitar riffs that soon follow.

"Beautiful" samples the first few lines of the song, each of which can be interpreted as Em's own message to friends, family and his fans: "Lately I've been hard to reach" - a nod to Em's absence from the music scene and the public eye; "I've been too long on my own" - a glimpse at his state after the loss of his longtime friend and partner in rhyme, Proof; "everybody has a private world where they can be alone" - again, addressing his absence from the limelight, as well as, perhaps, describing drug addiction, in which many users develop a parallel reality for themselves in such a state. The next lines might either be indicative of the most telling or simply the most elastic interpretation on my part: "Are you calling me? Are you trying to get through? Are you reaching out for me, like I'm reaching out for you?" I don't know much about Em's spiritual/religious beliefs, but these lines could be indicative of such a relationship he may have with a higher power he may (or may not) believe in. Again, I might be reaching with this one. Be that as it may, being that "Beautiful" was the only Relapse track solely-produced by Eminem himself, it's safe to say that the words sung by Rodgers seemed to have touched Marshall personally. These are qualities that might not be found on other albums, in which a sampled drum break was nothing more than that - just a bangin' drum break. Em's sample choices, as documented in the past, are often eclectic, sometimes defining his eccentric demeanor. Again, maybe it's just how I see/hear it.

Much hoopla has been made over the apparent sample usage of Metallica's "One" for the track "Same Song & Dance". I say "apparent", because the song is the only one featured on this set which was not mentioned in the album's liner notes. But there's a distinct sound between "One" and "Same Song & Dance" that is quite noticeable. I can't say much for the Metallica track, other than the fact that those sparse guitar pluckings are beautiful in contrast with the band's rugged, metal sound. But "Same Song & Dance" is yet another one of Relapse's few tracks that stick out to me, both for the beat and lyrical content. On the production tip, "Same Song & Dance" wows me with those eerie vocal synthesizers which evoke a dark, yet somewhat soulful melodic tapestry. But Em's pen and pad skills, unleashing the depths of his madness, can't help but scream at the listener. The verses are filled with enough twisted, misogynistic content to sound like a follow-up to "Kim" from The Marshall Mathers LP. But the chorus, albeit violent and cruel like the verses, somehow possesses the bounce and swing of a club track.

I realize by now that I've dragged this discussion to a much longer length than my typical sample set summaries. So I guess I'll proceed to just review Relapse then, huh? Definitely overdue. I won't take too long.

Produced nearly-entirely by Dr. Dre, much of this album knocks! I've commented on my love for the great Dre-esque production ("Insane" couldn't be more atypical of the good Doctor) on this album, particularly on the drums off of "Bagpipes from Baghdad" which features assistance from Trevor Lawrence Jr. (more info here). Worth noting, however, is that many of these beats sound like they're tailor-made for Em. I wouldn't expect to hear this sound or style on Detox. In fact, I'd be disappointed if I did. My main gripe with Relapse is Em's odd affinity for picking up accents. He made his first jump in this direction on Encore, and by all means I remember fans - myself included - criticizing it. I guess he didn't take heed to the critiques. I can't really put my finger on it - is that a faux-Pakistani accent? Who knows... Either way, it's unnecessary, distracting and just plain insane, no pun intended.

Another problem with the album is that it could either be considered full of filler or simply full of tracks that are worth nothing more than one or two spins. There's no solid playback on here. Things truly get exciting at a point in the album that's just too late - the final track, titled "Underground". Em spits with the timbre and ferocity we've grown to love. Aside from a particular series of bars that crack me up ("Better text message your next of kin/ Tell him shit's about to get extra messy, especially when/ I flex again and throw a fucking lesbian in wet cement/"), the lyrics aren't truly jaw-dropping. But the flow is ridiculous. I can only hope that Relapse 2 will sound like this throughout.

Lemme be as direct as possible: Relapse isn't really worth your hard-earned spinach, especially in this economy. It's better than Encore, but not by much. It is however, Em's most personal album to date. In the past, Slim Shady and Marshall Mathers entertained us with maniacal tales that were nothing more but the products of an overactive imagination. On Relapse, Em gets us acquainted with his inner demons like never before - for better or for worse. That's worth something, but still, I'd take it with a grain of salt. I expect more from Em. That's why I'll be going cold turkey 'til Relapse 2.

Uppers: "Same Song & Dance", "Beautiful", "Underground", "Bagpipes from Baghdad"
Downers: "We Made You", "My Mom", "Medicine Ball", "Deja Vu"