At least in the theater of this mind. Mine.
It’s such an old, great, almost-forgotten feeling. Being so wrapped up in a new hip-hop album that I’m constantly running back to my computer just to bump a song or two. Forcing a “mix CD” full of throwaway songs (Cassie and The-Dream’s “Keep On Lovin’ Me”? Really, Matt?) just to have my favorite cuts from said album available for car rides.
I never expected Eminem’s new album, Relapse, to kick my ass as much as it had over the past week and change. To be frank (like my pops), I didn’t think the guy had this level of sucker-punch left in him. The natural-bprn lyrical insanity that Marshall Mathers has long shown was anticipated, sure. I knew that Dr. Dre would use the album as his own return-to-the-throne of sorts, giving Eminem a serving tray full of monsters. But in now way was I expecting the two of them to come so damn dark. Heavy, twisted. Listening to Relapse is this profound event, now. It’s as if I’m playing an album that should’ve never seen the light of day in 2009. A time when rap music as a whole sucks and risk-taking is old hat-rack. Relapse doesn’t fit in at all.
For that, I military-salute Eminem. He could’ve used the entire album as a pity-me therapy session. Two or three songs addressing Proof’s murder, another couple about his descent in drug hell. But, nope. Instead, he’s put together an album so warped that it borders on true psycho shit. It’s all in “good fun,” he’d say, of course, and I’m sure it is. He’s been doing this say-the-craziest-shit-possible routine since we first heard “I Don’t Give A Fuck.” He’s back in his Slim Shady zone, and it’s good to hear. I’ll be damned, however, if Relapse‘s overall tone isn’t an all-new beast completely. It’s Slim Shady after locking himself in a padded room for a month straight and with only Matt Barone’s DVD collection for entertainment.
Nail, hit on the head right there. That’s why I love Relapse so much, why I can’t stop listening to it, why it’s jumping ahead of The Eminem Show as my second favorite of his work (The Marshall Mathers LP will never be dethroned….too much of a time capsule, on top of actual excellence).
Relapse captures the attitude of artistic entertainment that I’ve been so hellbent over for the past two years, since that afore-post-mentioned Grindhouse awakening. Macabre, dementia, underlying dread and hardcore nihilism.
Something tells me that Eminem would totally love Pascal Laugier’s Martyrs if I were ever able to recommend the flick to him. [Analysis continues after the jump]
At first, Relapse was shaping up to be an utter disappointment. All signs pointed to a catastrophic failure that only furthered my current growing sense of detachment and frustration toward today’s rap music scene. “Crack A Bottle,” the obligatory Shady/Aftermath three-way (Pause) featuring Dr. Dre and 50 Cent, underwhelmed my ears worse than a Gucci Mane mixtape (sorry, I know he’s the shit right now, but I just can’t hitchhike onto that bandwagon, folks). The hook was hooky enough, but the verses, namely Eminem’s, felt uninspired, too random and meandering. Then came the expected goofy-first-video-single “We Made You,” which initially made me want to cry. Eminem’s celebrity-skewering had become so late, sheer behind-the-times shit. Perez Hilton and DListed took that lane away from you, my dude. Name-dropping Jessica Alba and Sarah Palin is 2008 too-late.
But then some strange things happened. “We Made You” infested itself in my brain with enough muscle that I became a fan. The album’s third taste, “3 A.M.,” leaked and knocked me over: a pure serial killer film on wax. Something I’d read about on Bloody-Disgusting.com. A Necro song done with the lyrical dexterity that Necro wishes he had.
Suddenly, Relapse took on a fresh promise, a new potential. Perhaps Eminem really is going to come back with some fucked-up subject matter, I thought.
My first run-through of Relapse confirmed all hopes.
Where to begin? Let’s go through the tracklist, actually, starting from the tippy. Strings and shrieks that you’d hear in an old Hammer horror film blast through on the aptly-titled “Insane” as Eminem recounts episodes of incest and ass-raping at the hands of his stepfather, delivered with the schizophrenia of a Captain Spaulding confession. “Bagpipes from Baghdad” brings Mariah Carey back into the picture for no good reason, calling her a “fuckin’ whore” before sidetracking into a Children of the Corn/Malachi reference that climaxes into a brilliantly-weird “shuck of corn”/Chaka Khan gag. Oh, and this third verse opener:
“In the bed with two braindead lesbian vegetables/I bet you they become het-ero-sexual/’Nothing will stop me from molesting you, titty-fucking you until your breast-nipple-flesh tickles my testicles’/Is what I said to the two conjoined twins, ‘How’s it going, girlfriends? You need a boyfriend?/You need some ointment? Just set up an appointment/Who’s gonna see the doctor first? We’ll do a coin-flip'”
And it goes on and on from there, a drug-riddled fantasy of sewing the female conjoined twins back together with needle and thread. Like the Dr. Frankenstein-ish coda of Lucky Mckee’s indie horror winner May, a film I’ve grown to love in recent months. Maybe Eminem has seen that one?
A brief interlude, “Tonya (Skit),” comes next, a less-than-a-minute movie scene starring a dialogue-less Em as the homicidal driver and Tonya as the unsuspecting victim picked up on the side of a nondescript highway. Right into the song that should have Lindsay Lohan’s and Britney Spears’ managers, bodyguards, and loved ones scared shitless, “Same Song & Dance.” The beat for this one is a symphony of lost souls, chanting in sorrow alongside heartless guitar plucks; Lohan is “lynched with 66 inches of extension cord,” while Spears is looked at a potential new suit that Eminem could make out of her flesh after breaking into her mansion while wearing high heels. Seriously. The same masochistic slaughter seen in the Eli Roth (filmmaker, horror encyclopedia, all around sick dude) recommendations ’70s/’80s grindhouse slasher films Torso and Pieces, both of which made me proud to have a Netflix account around Christmas time.
Eli Roth needs to give Relapse a listen, come to think of it……tons of movie plot ideas to be heard here.
“Same Song & Dance,” curiously enough, precedes “We Made You,” a move that signals a real duality of obsession. First he’s killing Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears, but then he’s forgetting that they’re now dead, their blood on his hands, and he’s using flattery to get in their panties. Necrophilia, anybody? Or, maybe Em’s gone totally off the deep end here and is shifting his interests toward the fictional ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Hector,’ the poor fools sent tumbling down into Em’s rabbithole on the pulverizing “Medicine Ball,” the album’s beefiest cut. A firestorm of detonating percussion and frantic sirens, capped off by a few bars from longtime Eminem target Christopher “Superman” Reeves, from beyond the grave. He was, if you recall, wheelchair-bound for the final years of his life due to an equestrian accident. Reeves’ final challenge to Eminem:
“Every day I hate you more and more/Throw down the cardboard, let’s breakdance if you think you’re hardcore.”
That’s disturbed genius, plain and simple.
The remainder of Relapse continues the morbid bounce for the most part. “Old Times Sake,” with Doc Dre, and “Crack A Bottle” show up to offer some lighthearted relief, albeit brief. Which is precisely why I skip over those two songs every time I play the album. Fuck that chump-style relief; give me more of what Eminem really wanted to do here: fuck our heads up. Just as he does on the album’s final song, “Underground,” a relentless assault to the senses. Off-balance flow, unruly production. A perfect end to a shockingly psychotic album.
I wonder, though: Would I be so fanatic about Relapse if I hadn’t spent the last two years of my life obsessing over foreign horror films, obscure exploitation cinema, and any other faction of unusual, dark filmmaking?
I don’t think so, to be honest. It feels like this album was made specifically for me, the guy who adores conceptual rap songs pulled off with top-level lyricism as much as he does a movie scene that induces either nausea or leave-the-room discomfort in his inexperienced friends when he arranges one of his precious “DVD nights.”
What’s the end result? Well, other than renewing my recently-flimsy faith that new rap albums not made by Elzhi (of Slum Village….The Preface is still amazing) can still excite and ignite me? Here goes: Eminem has slapboxed Nas out of my personal G.O.A.T. slot. My favorite MC of all time, hands down.
Nobody else could’ve pieced together an album this bananas, edgy, and rewindable other than Mr. Mathers. Jay-Z is too much about the commercial tendencies, which is cool; that’s his lane, and he owns it. Nas concerns himself, quite admirably, with social issues that I can’t totally connect with, for obvious reasons (think about it). Eminem, though, has unleashed a brutal David Lynchian movie-on-CD in the guise of the year’s biggest mainstream rap release, and that’s fucking awesome.
The lyrical excerpt from Relapse that best encapsulates why I’m so gung-ho right now? A self-imposed question, but still a fine one. It’s from “Must Be the Ganja,” a song title that’s rather lame in its own right; the song itself, though, is a bass beatdown/haunted house ride enhanced by heavy narcotic use. The lyrics in question:
“How many people you know who can name every serial killer who ever existed in a row?/Put ’em in chronological order, beginning with Jack the Ripper/Name the time and place from the body, the bag, the zipper/Location of the woods where the body was dragged and then dumped/The trunk that they were stuffed in/The model, the make, the plate, and which model, which lake they found her in/How they attacked the victim?/Say which murder was used to do what, and which one?/Which knife or which gun? What kid, what wife, and which nun?/Don’t stop, I like this, it’s fun/The fuckin’ night’s just begun”
Not only is that verbally airtight, it’s downright wrong. And right. Oh so right. Placed within an album that’s guaranteed to debut at #1 on the Billboard charts. That your little sister and/or brother will purchase.
There’s something so wonderful about that.
Maybe I’m just a bit tetched in my own head. Nowhere as extreme as Eminem…..just slightly off. Taking such excitable ownership in art as bonkers as Relapse or Fabrice Du Welz’s Calvaire isn’t your run-of-the-mill joy.
Speaking of which, that first verse of “Medicine Ball” shares a thing or three with Calvaire, huh? The whole homo-psychotic angle.
Yeah, Relapse wouldn’t have had the same impact on me if this were 2004.
And I thought The Marshall Mathers LP was a product of its time.