Although that theme gets pretty tired by the end of the 17 tracks, early on it's a real thrill to hear Em sounding so genuinely furious, even if it's mainly at himself. As a double-pronged attack with opener 'Cold Wind Blows', there's finally enough fizz to match the raw energy and hate of those first two Aftermath records. Hell, there are even lyrics horrible enough to actually shock rather than bore, something Marshall Mathers III hasn't managed in the best part of a decade ("I'll kick a bitch in the c**t till it queefs and sounds like a f**kin whoopie cushion"). It might well make you recoil in disgust, it certainly does me, but hey, at least he's got that about him this time around.
Elsewhere we're not so lucky. Not for the first time, someone, somewhere needed to get into the studio with the mantra that less is more and a pair of scissors aimed squarely at the master tapes. Just because a CD can physically hold nearly 80 minutes of music, doesn't mean there's a need to fill it with limp tracks like 'On Fire', 'Space Bound' and 'Almost Famous'. With a bit more quality control and a touch more bravery, Recovery could have been a much stronger statement.
Then there are the samples. Em used to be the King of the neatly-swiped hook, which elevated his rhymes and frequently transcended their source. There was the inspired ('Stan'), cheeky ('Without Me') and just perfectly-deployed ('Sing For The Moment'). Here, we get an intrusive grab from Ozzy's 'Changes' on 'Going Through Changes', the lazy use of Lesley Gore's 'You Don't Own Me' on 'Untitled', the completely jarring Gerard McMann's 'Cry Little Sister' on 'You're Never Over' and just plain bizarre bounce of Haddaway's Eurodance classic 'What Is Love' on 'No Love'.
The last from that list features Lil Wayne, but it's another, more surprising guest spot that plays a bigger part in bringing a pulse to Recovery. 'Won't Back Down' has Pink jostling shoulder-to-shoulder with Em on one of the album's tightest tracks, the one that boasts his harshest, most effortless flow. The less successful 'Love The Way You Lie' features a Rihanna-plus-piano intro zapped out into a ballady rap, but she returns for a chorus that's fresh enough to make you think Em should consider further All Star hook-ups.
Lyrically, well, what to say? To be honest, it's a struggle to accept the whole enfant terrible thing from a 37-year-old man, especially one who keeps posing for those oh-so serious looking LP covers. There's the occasional bit of gloriously unpleasant wit ("Like David Carradine they can go f**k themselves and just die"), but usually just plain unpleasantness ("She's got her jaw stuck / From suckin' my d**k") and two Michael J. Fox/Parkinson's "gags" ... yawn. In among all the self-pity, there are enough flashes of inspiration here to suggest that Eminem isn't a completely spent creative force, but as long as he keeps selling billions of sub-par records, those of us so impressed with the guy for a couple of years at the turn of the century will have to keep waiting for the lyrical maturity or musical progression that could make him great again.