I've listened to it three times now, once just straight through at home after picking up the CD and twice while driving, and while I didn't love it as much as I had hoped I would (I think it definitely deserves the mixed reviews it's been getting), he has not lost the one thing that has always, always set him apart in the game, and that is his lyrical skill. The multisyllabic rhyming that's so skilful it's still unbelievable, the crazy puns, the complex sentence structure, the relentless delivery -- all of it; I seriously can't believe he's put out 7 full albums and who knows how many bonus tracks and collabs, and he's never once faltered in this respect. I can't believe how fucking brilliantly gifted this man is with words. As for content, well, that's where the hit and miss aspect of this record comes in. Gone is the casual bigotry of Encore and the horrorcore of Relapse (and Refill), all you get is straight-up Eminem, talking about -- well, his problems.
Except now his problems are not so much putting food on the table or holding down a job, but ongoing recovery from drug addiction, regret for having disintegrated his relationship with his wife, insecurity about his career, and grief for the death of his best friend. Eminem has never been shy about complaining about his hard life, sometimes to the point of causing eye-rolling even for his most hardcore fans, but the pure honest raw emotion on this album is unprecedented and unparalleled, even though I think it has come at a cost of him somewhat (but thankfully not totally) forgetting how to laugh at himself, not to mention forgetting that he can't fucking sing and should just give it up as a bad job. >.> Also, there are hardly any Dre beats, which I think is a crying shame, but I know Dre's been busy with Detox and hopefully he'll be able to produce more for Em's next album.
You're Never Over deserves a mention in a class of its own -- back when Relapse came out, I'd commented that there is a song on every Eminem album that reaches me in a way no other artist's work could ever reach me, and Recovery is no exception; I am glad I made sure to first listen to this album by myself at home and not while operating a motor vehicle, because this song just about destroyed me (in a really good kinda way, mind).
The days are cold, livin' without you
The nights are long, I'm growing older
I miss the days of old, thinkin' about you
You may be gone, but you're never over
And it don't stop / and it don't quit / and I miss you / I just miss you
My absolute favourites off this album so far are You're Never Over (as above), Not Afraid (predictably, but w/e, it fucking rocks, okay -- but it's time to exorcise these demons -- these motherfuckers are doing jumping-jacks now), Love the Way You Lie (feat. Rihanna -- I think this may be one of the best things Eminem has ever done; now you get to watch her leave out the window; guess that's why they call it "window pane"), and the bonus Untitled (did you think it'll cost me a pretty penny / shit, if I think a penny's pretty, just imagine how beautiful a quarter is to me) -- which I hope is a sign of what Em's got in store in the future.
I love Going Through Changes (I still love your mother -- that will never change / think about her every day, we just could never get it together), No Love (feat. Lil Wayne; that means I'm on top of my game and it don't stop / 'til my hip don't hop anymore ), Space Bound (promise me if I cave in and break and leave myself open / that I won't be makin' a mistake), 25 to Life (but you keep treating me like a staircase; it's time to fucking step), and Ridaz (the bonus iTunes track; onlookers participate in this ass-kicking debate).
Ones I'll probably warm up to more after a few more listens: Cold Wind Blows (I put that on everything, like everyone does with Auto-Tune), Talkin' 2 Myself (feat. Kobe; thank God that I didn't do it / I'd have had my ass handed to me, and I knew it), On Fire (wrap a lizard in gauze, beat you in the jaws with it / grab the scissors and saws), Won't Back Down (feat. P!nk; how the fuck have I been hit six times in three different locations on four separate ocassions?), Almost Famous (get off my antidisestablishmentarianism, you prick!), and Session One (bonus iTunes track feat. Slaughterhouse; now I ain't back just for the sake of sayin' I'm back)
I can't say I disliked these, but I didn't really get Seduction (they call me fire Marshall, I shut the shit down / your entire arsenal is not enough to fuck with one round), W.T.P. [White Trash Party] (missed the tree and hit Rudolf and two innocent bystanders), Cinderella Man (who forms pyramids and raps circles around square lyricists; who?), or So Bad (I'm the American dream, I'm the definition of white trash ballin').
The thing that really comes through on this album, though, is that all this violence and hatred he's filled with is not okay, and never has been. He's not saying "treat women badly, it's awesome"; throughout the album he reinforces that he's a piece of shit for saying and thinking these things. Slim Shady is, and always was, a violent, offensive, misogynistic, homophobic persona, a caricature that reflects ugliness in both the artist and the society he inhabits. Eminem has always maintained that he does not see himself as a role model, and never does he claim that the things he says are justified or okay; his intent is to offend and insult -- this is the same dude who told the New York Times this weekend that he's in support of gay marriage. His whole schtick, from the start, has been a stance that screams "I am a fucked up monster (and none of this is okay if you're a decent human being)". I have always understood that, and I think it comes through especially clearly on this album.
What's different today for me is that I now support the position that his lyrics shouldn't go unchallenged regardless of intent, because free speech and freedom of artistic expression do cut both ways.
At any rate, this album is exactly the comeback I was waiting for; it's not perfect and it's not a full 180o but it works. Recovery also works as a title, but it would have been more precise to call it Recovering.