First, a disclaimer: The only reason pointing out the lackluster lyrical punch on Eminem’s new album Recovery feels like a worthwhile endeavor is because for over a decade, Eminem’s lyrical punch was taken for granted. The guy’s been laps ahead of everyone else for so long that seeing him come down to earth is as surprising as it is unsettling. That said — as more than a few critics have pointed out, and as Vulture has to agree, Recovery is Eminem at his weakest lyrically. But how exactly is he underperforming? The five ways that Em misses the mark on his new album.
Eminem’s vitriol toward easy teen-pop targets has been criticized going back to The Marshall Mathers LP. Still, at least back then he knew who the teens were into.
“This ain’t a song, this is a warning to Brooke / Hogan and David Cook / that the crook just took over, so book.” (“On Fire”)
Brooke Hogan. Yep.
He’s prone to gushy sentimentalism on the whole album, perhaps best summed up in this stunning string of clichés:
“I got a hole in my heart from some kind of emotional roller coaster / Somethin’ I won’t go on till you toyed with my emotions, so it’s over / It’s like an explosion every time I hold you, I wasn’t joking when I told you / You take my breath away, you’re a supernova.” (“Space Bound”)
“I shoot for the moon / But I’m too busy gazing at stars.” (“Not Afraid”)
These are all meant to be clever. They are not.
“Listen, garden tool, don’t make me introduce you to my power tool / You know the fucking drill.” (“Won’t Back Down”)
“I’m an uncut slab of beef, laying on your kitchen floor / Other words, I’m off the meat rack.” (“Won’t Back Down”)
“Need I remind you that I don’t need the fucking swine flu / to be a sick pig.” (“Won’t Back Down”)
“Stick my dick in a circle / but I’m not fucking around.” (“Cold Wind Blows”)
“You don’t get another chance / Life is no Nintendo game / But you lied again / Now you get to watch her leave out the window / Guess that’s why they call it window pane.” (“Love the Way You Lie”)
This bit of complaining is reserved just for the Recovery tracks “Seduction” and “So Bad.” Why did Eminem decide, even for the ten minutes those songs make up, to try to be late-career LL Cool J?
“It’s like we’re playing lyrical tug of war with your ear / You hear it, girl, come here / Put your ear up to the speaker, dear, while I freak this / world premiere.” (“Seduction”)
This is Eminem! The same guy whose idea of a party song used to involve accidental mushroom overdoses and girls with daddy issues chugging Lysol!
Most open to debate is Eminem’s slipping technical ability. As we see it, Em used to drop chunks of intricately layered internal-rhyme lines at will — not necessarily the greatest example, but probably our favorite: “Raw dog, get your arm gnawed off / Drop the sawed off and beat you with the piece it was sawed off of,” from Dr. Dre’s “What’s the Difference” — but almost every time he tries to pull out those old tricks on Recovery, it comes out flat and soft.
“Shit, dissin’ me is just like pissin’ off the Wizard of Oz / Wrap a lizard in gauze, beat you in the jaws with it / Grab the scissors and saws and / Cut out your livers, gizzards, and balls / Throw you in the middle of the ocean in the blizzard with jaws.” (“On Fire”)
“Coldhearted / from the day I Bogarted / the game my soul started / to rot, fellow / when I’m not even at my harshest / you can still get roasted cause Marshall is not mellow.” (“No Love”)
“Does a bird chirp, Lil Wayne slurps syrup till he burps / And smokes purp, does a word search / gets circles wrapped around him like / You do when I come through, I’d like you to remind yourself / Of what the fuck I can do when I’m on the mike.” (“Won’t Back Down”)