Use care when operating CD player

Shady/Aftermath/Interscope
Music •••• Sound ••••
"Push down & turn." That's what you'll see etched onto the CD when you crack open Relapse, Eminem's first album in 5 years. Following a nightmarish intro sketch that explodes into a booming Dr. Dre beat, it becomes clear that Em had been opening a lot of drug bottles (prescription and otherwise) before attempting this comeback.

As it turns out, Eminem's substance abuse and his eventual recovery have resulted in a compelling return, and one of the best albums of his career. On "3 a.m." he is "Contemplating my next plot again / Swallowin' the Klonopin while I'm noddin' in and out" at a Ramada Inn. Soon, he'll "wake up naked at McDonald's." The more he raps about how drugs messed him up, the more the storylines - always co-dependent on Dre's dazzling rhythmic knockouts - hark back to prime Em.

Meanwhile, to this day, the subject of Mother Mathers still makes for some truly wacked material. "I know you're probably tired of hearing 'bout my mom / But this is just a story of when I was just a shorty / And how I became hooked on Valium." Tired? Nope. "My Mom" just might be the best tune about her yet - not only because of Eminem's revealing, tongue-twisting flow but also because of how his vocals, in a surprising reggae-style delivery, lock dread-on with Dre's sleazy beats. And later in the track, Em's accent goes Latino in an especially fiery section. Throughout Relapse, Em and Dre knock things up several notches as a rap team. But they also manage to keep things decidedly old-school on several tracks, such as "Old Time's Sake," a floor-banger shout-out to gangsta rap.

Overall, the melding of brazen words and bombastic sonics rivals what Em achieved on The Slim Shady LP and The Eminem Show. This album is as darkly chuckle-inducing as those were, and almost as catchy musically. But what really sets Relapse apart is how Eminem employs his schizophrenia as a remarkable instrument that has gone absolutely wild.

So go ahead: Push down & turn, and swallow every track.

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