At the turn of the decade, Eminem had cemented himself as the biggest rap artist of the modern era. Something happened around the release of Recovery. For the longest time, hip-hop had been the one genre that spawned singles that were both massive and brilliant. Nowadays, people accept Nicki Minaj, B.o.B., Kanye throwaways, and flippin’ Karmin as rap standards. Yes, we have Kid Cudi, Drake, Mos Def, and even Childish Gambino, but they should be the bar. What happened to songs that could be catchy, snarky, and interesting like Kanye’s “Gold Digger?” Where are the indictment of popular culture with Em’s “The Real Slim Shady?” I’ve got ninety-nine problems, one of which is this degradation of hip-hop.
Recovery is hard to write about, because it represents everything about Eminem that is important when understanding who his public persona (or personas,) is, and what kind of person he is. Upon its release, Recovery received mixed reception. No Eminem record has truly been embraced wholeheartedly by critics, but retrospectively, many people (myself included,) can fondly appreciate albums like The Marshall Mathers LP and The Eminem Show, even a decade after the fact. This is a huge step up from Eminem’s controversial release Relapse. Unfortunately, Recovery does not present Marshall Mathers’ talent as effectively as his earlier work.
There is a lot here that Eminem does right. For one thing, black or white, man or woman, young or old, there is no signed rapper who has better flow or better rhythm than Eminem. He fits clever quips, and catchy rhymes all while never missing a beat. It’s methodical, and so indicative of just how smart Mathers actually is. The whole idea of a triumph from Eminem should be fantastic. In theory, Marshall Mathers telling everyone who he is and why they don’t matter, properly executed, would be something to behold. For the most part, Em succeeds at this. He talks back to his detractors in such a sassy, but satisfying way. This is not the whole record. There are a few tender moments, and a few songs that are harrowing and bleak. These highs of intensity and lows of vulnerability, when they meet, make for something remarkable. It is also important to mention that this album is excellently produced. Every song, whether it is a stronger track or not, sounds very good. Arrangements work well together, samples are used effectively, and highs and lows are balanced perfectly. This is a good sounding album.
What is so hard is that there is so much that is so great, but that is diluted by a lot that holds it back. This stumbles into what I hate about most modern rap music. For one thing, it is too long. Instead of a seventeen track record with twelve or thirteen songs and a few skits, we get seventeen songs. Recovery is nearly eighty minutes long, nearly maxing out the disc space. After a while, it starts to get boring. There are a ton of tracks that are so good, but there are nearly just as many that are incredibly weak. Many of these tracks are the biggest songs from the record: i.e. “Love the Way You Lie,” “No Love,” and “Not Afraid.” These tracks really don’t add a lot to the album, and get in the way of some better songs. In fact, as a whole, this album can be gratuitous in how abrasive its lyrical themes are. It is nice to take a break from the club, and from Eminem’s conquests, but that does not keep this from being one of the most misogynistic collection of songs. It is not offensive in this vein through and through, but it takes up a large chunk of the album. On top of this, Mathers is unspeakably profane. It’s as if Em writes his rhymes, and fills in the gaps with whatever dirty word or phrase he can think of. I am not overly perturbed by foul language, but when it is so frequent, it’s hard not to start feeling uncomfortable. The other thing that is bothersome regarding the record is that is how inconsistent it is. A good album should flow from track to track, but this is really just a collection of songs clumped together. Recovery could be a really epochal journey, but there are missed opportunities, and we have Em running out of the gates, and then ending it with Slim Shady, as if it was an idea that he thought of near the end, and thought maybe it would work. It doesn’t.
Recovery could be amazing. It is a solid release, but there is too much filler, too many bad decisions made, too little focus, and a lack of cohesion. As a whole, it is a good record, but put in context with Eminem’s discography, it’s a disappointment. Had Mathers really put more into the whole, and tried to make a more concise statement, Recovery may very well have been his magnum opus. Alas, we are given a release that has traces of its author’s apparent greatness. Eminem is an ambitious artist. He is capable of greatness, and we should expect nothing less.
Score: 62 (C+)
Notable Tracks: Cold Wind Blows, Space Bound, and Cinderella Man