Many mainstream music critics are pondering whether Eminem is still relevant in 2010. But his fans aren’t. The Detroit rapper’s sixth major-label effort is also his sixth chart-topper in row, which means he trails only The Beatles for consecutive No. 1 albums. First week sales of Recovery hit 741,000 units—the biggest debut in nearly two years—proving that Eminem’s followers are still very interested in what he has to say.
Which is why we are, too.
Two significant events have shaped Eminem’s life in the years leading up to this project: kicking his addiction to prescription drugs and the death of his friend and fellow rapper, Proof. Both subjects get a lot of air time on Recovery.
Though peppered with profanity, ” Not Afraid” is downright inspirational at certain points. “I’m standing up, I’ma face my demons/I’m manning up, I’ma hold my ground,” Eminem raps. As to others facing similar struggles, he promises, “We’ll walk this road together through the storm.” Likewise, “Talkin’ 2 Myself” and “Going Through Changes” find him reflecting on how his addiction left him desperate and isolated. “Why do I act like I’m all high and mighty when inside I’m dying?” he asks on the latter. “I’m finally realizing I need help.” Several tracks reference Em’s sense of responsibility for his daughters.
Regarding his feelings about Proof, Eminem unleashes his grief on “You’re Never Over” (“I don’t think you understand how much you meant to me”). He even cries out to God: “So, God, just help me out while I fight through this grieving process.” God turns up again on “Cold Wind Blows.” After the line, “God, I give up/ … Lord, forgive me for what my pen do,” we hear a deep voice say, “This is for your sins, I cleanse you/You can repent but I warn you/If you continue/To hell I’ll send you.”
For all the moments that hint at Eminem turning some kind of corner, however, the vast majority of this album’s 17 songs are foul. Language-wise, listeners are assaulted with the harshest obscenities and vulgarities—we’re talking hundreds of uses of the f-word and its variants.
And that’s just the tip of this nasty lyrical iceberg. We also hear repeated, crude and graphic references to male and female genitalia and oral sex. On “Won’t Back Down,” Eminem brags that his success and sexual prowess are the reason he can so easily seduce another man’s lover. That song also says, “I’ma s‑‑‑ stain on the underwear of life.”
Two breakup songs seem remarkably sensitive for Eminem … until he starts talking about murdering each of those women for leaving him. On “Space Bound,” he apparently backs off his intention to break a woman’s neck in exchange for killing himself instead. These lines are merely the beginning—and the only ones I dare reprint: “I’m trying to stop you from leaving/ … I’m trying to stop you from breathing/I put both hands on your throat …”
On ” Love the Way You Lie,” the raps reads, “If she ever tries to f‑‑‑in’ leave again/I’ma tie her to the bed and set this house on fire.” Speaking of fire, “On Fire” promises to eviscerate and castrate someone who “disses” Eminem. And the things he has to say about the sexual proclivities of Elton John and David Carradine are mind-bogglingly awful … not to mention (again) utterly unprintable.
We also get approving references to marijuana and drinking, as well as narration involving many of the prescription meds Eminem was addicted to.
For fractions of a second on a smattering of songs it almost seems as if Eminem is ready to leave his shock tactics behind. But the 37-year-old quickly shoves this line at anyone who thinks he’s going “soft”: “You musta mistook me for some sissy,” he tells us on “Cold Wind Blows.” Indeed. Ultimately, Eminem’s titular “recovery” is anything but. It’s just more of the same. More carpet-bombing profanity. More degenerate depravity. More misogyny, murder and mayhem.
Entertainment Weekly reviewer Simon Vozick-Levinson summed it up like this: “Gratuitous nastiness is nothing new for Eminem, but if he really wants to prove something, he could try recording an entire album without any.”
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.