It was easy to be unenthusiastic about Relapse, Eminem's first album in nearly five years. And not even just because of the large amount of time that had passed; his previous release, Encore, came across as little more than Eminem by-the-numbers. It lacked the heart of even The Eminem Show, which showed maybe three quarters the heart of his two previous albums, at best. Instead of cutting loose with his morbid sense of humor, he was streamlining it with celebrity parody (Just Lose It) and generic hip hop sentiments (Ass Like That). While admittedly, the political stances were appreciated, all of the rest was lackluster by comparison to the rest of his discography, and it didn't look too promising for Relapse. However, Relapse delivers the goods, and more; I daresay that this is his strongest effort since The Marshall Mathers LP.
Relapse probably has the best introduction on an album all year in Dr. West. Half darkly funny and half mildly disturbing, he addresses his demons while making fun of the whole situation at the same time. Eminem actually seems the most comfortable he's ever been with making fun of himself, which is a must for somebody like him ("And this Christopher Reeve shit? You know the guy's dead, right?"). The Steve Berman skit near the album's finish is the best example of this, showing Eminem at the receiving end of the following mockery: "Oh poor me, I had a drug problem!" The skits alone this time around are the best they've been in quite a while.
Loosely telling a story of Eminem resurrecting his Slim Shady persona, Relapse starts with 3 a.m., a song so violent and fearlessly offensive that it's just... it's just great. What makes it so endlessly fascinating is not just how over the top he gets, but how eloquent he is as he unveils these tales of horrific carnage as well(and to think, they just get worse after this!). The following pair of My Mom and Insane explore his childhood (with his usual exaggeration, the latter in particular) has wordplay that tops anything he did on Encore by leaps and bounds; Mom's chorus of "That's why I'm on what I'm on 'cause I'm my mom" or Insane's opening line, "I was born with a dick in my brain, yeah, fucked in the head" are absolutely brilliant. Insane reintroduces us to the off the wall jokes that have been gone from his repertoire for far too long, such as "Well this is called Ass-Rape and we're shooting the Jail scene," as well as some that would probably be best not repeated here.
After that we return to fantasies involving kidnapping and murdering celebrities, or simply banging them (Same Song and Dance and single We Made You, respectively). For all its name dropping, We Made You sounds like genuine Eminem talking shit, as opposed to Just Lose It which sounded like borderline posturing. After these we have a series of drug related songs which culminate in the Mr. Mathers skit, leading into the surprisingly honest and soul searching pair of Déjà Vu and Beautiful, the latter actually being produced by Eminem himself. The rest of the album's production is handled by Dr. Dre, who does a fantastic job all throughout Relapse. The beats all snap and sound fresh, matching whatever mood is being conveyed to a T.
Closing out Relapse is Underground, ending with a cameo from everybody's favorite creeper, Ken Kaniff. The beat is extremely smart, playing with its time signature (unheard of in commercial rap) with Eminem's flow sounding aaaalmost disjointed, but he keeps up effortlessly. Throw in his reliably intelligent rhymes, and you've got six minutes that will fly by every time. A spectacular way to close a truly outstanding album.
Relapse shows Eminem at the top of his game once again. Brilliant rhymes, great beats, and he flat out sounds more confident than he has in nearly a decade. After hearing this, I personally don't think Relapse 2 can come fast enough.