You have to respect an artist who's willing to write off a good percentage of his own catalogue - records that millions of people bought and a good majority of those enjoyed. Eminem isn't happy with Encore and that's understandable - it wasn't very good. More surprisingly, he's pretty scathing about Relapse as well, which many fans - including this one - saw as a return to form, albeit a partial one. Relapse suffered from being inconsistent but its two bonus tracks and the 'Relapse:Refill' release seemed to point in a more encouraging direction; less silly accents and more focus on flow and technical ability. The good news is, this trend has continue unabated with Recovery.
Recovery is an album that grows with each listen. It's not perfect, but is it better than Relapse? Yes. Is it better than The Eminem Show? Narrowly, yes. This is an album that can stand comfortably alongside the 'LP's although perhaps not on first listen - it's definitely a grower. The accents have gone. The skits have disappeared. To his credit, the change in Eminem's style is tangible - this isn't self-declaration, it's very evident that things have change momentum.
The guest appearances may be surprising. We're mercifully spared any 50 Cent, and there's no D12 here either. After rapping about how he was on the verge of putting out a diss record against Lil' Wayne, he actually appears on this album, although ironically, Eminem destroys him on 'No Love'. There are uncredited appearances too - '25 To Life' and 'Almost Famous' both benefit from a female hook, but the biggest surprise will surely be one time nemesis Pink, who actually adds so little to 'Won't Back Down' that she might as well be anyone. Rihanna continues to demonstrate that any collaboration she touches turns to gold; she's the female Nate Dogg in that respect.
And so the man himself. This is a self-conscious album from Eminem, but unlike his lesser records, he's no longer moaning about the price of fame. Instead, this is autobiographical as he brings us up to speed with where he's been and attempts some kind of redemption after his last two albums. Lyrically, Eminem has never sounded better. His flow is, incredibly, superior to any of his past albums. He dances around each beat; his trademark polysyllabic rhyming style often dazzles and leads to multiple rewind-moments. On one or two occasions the sentiment of the flow is sacrificed for an easy rhyme, but moments like these are few and far between. It's hard to think of any better technical lyricist, alive or dead - if Eminem set out to re-establish his skills, this album is a triumph.
I won't go through every track, but suffice to say, this is an album that is destined to be a classic. It isn't perfect - there's too much singing here, and although Eminem can hold a tune, he's better off leaving that to people who can do it better. There's also one too many try-hard cultural references (multiple jabs at Michael J Fox are neither topical nor particularly funny). In addition to that, the Proof tribute song 'You're Never Over' is out of place and indulgent. There's also been an error of judgement in terms of song order - the second track should have been the first, and the 'untitled' song is too good to remain hidden.
That being said, this deserves a place in the collection of anyone who can claim to enjoy hip hop, or music. It is a bold, unmistakeable statement of return from one of the most skilled rappers in the game, and I for one love it.