Eminem is looking for a new doctor. Forget Dre and his beats. There’s only one on Recovery—the certified banger, “So Bad.” No, what Detroit’s favorite son wants is Back to the Future’s Doc Brown and his time-traveling Delorean. Why else would he mention Michael J. Fox on two separate songs? Or more importantly, why else would he sample “What is Love?” by Haddaway, best known for its role in the unforgettable 90’s classic, Night at the Roxbury?
The first lyrics on Recovery say it straight out—“Because some things just don’t change/It’s better when they stay the same.” Eminem is trying to get back to the glory days, where he was before his addiction to painkillers and his fall from the top of the list of relevant rappers. Make sure you’re sitting down when that Just Blaze-produced beat finally drops and the opening track, “Cold Wind Blows,” gets rolling. It’s going to be quite the shock.
We haven’t heard an Eminem effort like this since the beginning of the millennium. Forget the Slim Shady persona that reared its ugly, played-out head on his last album, Relapse. All that celebrity mocking only lends itself to making the material horribly dated—see: past references to Tom Green, Carson Daly and Fred Durst. This is Marshall Mathers speaking now. This is angry lyrics over angry beats. This is wordplay like “Y’all are Eminem backwards/You’re meni [sic] me’s.” This is punch line after punch line that makes you cringe and laugh at the same time, including one featuring one-time collaborator Elton John that’s so unprintable it deserves a special mention.
Recovery’s first single and #1 hit, “Not Afraid,” and its successor, “Love The Way You Lie,” are solid. They are built for radio play with catchy hooks and uncomplicated rhyme schemes. But do yourself a favor and skip them. Where Eminem truly shines is on tracks where he can cut loose and go on and on for line after line. “Won’t Back Down” features the most defiant lyrics of the whole album over a swirling organ riff courtesy of DJ Khalid. “Almost Famous” has a haunting hook—delivered in an understated breathy female voice—second only to crooning soul sample on “Untitled” in pure emotional force and message.
That soul sample sums up what we’ve know about Eminem since day one—“You don’t own me/Don’t try to change me.” As the track fades out and Eminem thanks the listener for coming out to the show, it’s clear that if this effort is just the recovery, then the countdown to full rehabilitation begins now.