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Relapse and Recovery but no Grammy

Eminem’s strength has been his relentless breathtaking uncompromising ability to talk…

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Eminem’s strength has been his relentless breathtaking uncompromising ability to talk about himself and his weaknesses, a trait he continues and consolidates upon in his new album, Recovery. In the world of rap, where braggadocio is everything, Eminem strikes a refreshingly aberrant note for he’s not afraid to raise a toast to his own vulnerabilities: “Are you stupid? You’re gon’ start dissin’ people for no reason?/”˜Specially when you can’t even write a decent punch line even?” The album remains one of the biggest successes of 2010. So what if it controversially didn’t win a Grammy this year. A veteran record industry executive even put out adverts in the papers the next day saying that overlooking Eminem in the Album of the Year category proved the Grammy jury was completely out of touch.

Americans love romantic stories of redemption. As Em raps on his new album, “I’m the American dream”¦I’m the definition of white trash balling.” Talented young men and women rise out of poverty, become celebrities, fall prey to their demons, then rise from the ashes again. Think Johnny Cash’s life as embodied in the Oscar-winning picture Walk The Line. There is a larger tradition too of artists using art to deal with their addictions; Pete Hamill wrote A Drinking Life when he quit drinking, while Richard Klein’s Smoking Cigarettes is Sublime was an ex-smoker’s ode to a bad habit. Eminem’s last two albums, Relapse and Recovery, fit into this wider scheme.

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Even though on Recovery he attacks his previous two outings – “”¦them last two albums didn’t count/ Encore I was on drugs, Relapse I was flushing them out” –  Relapse, lyrics-wise, remains one of his most terrifyingly brilliant outings till date, a very concrete record of an addict’s state of mind; an exhaustive inventory of pharmaceuticals (Percodan, Paxil, Klonopin, Vicodin, Methadone, Xanax, Zantac, Oxycontin, lithium); and a celebration of death, “Your walking down a horror corridor it’s almost 4 in the mornin’ and you’re in/A nightmare it’s horrible/Right there’s the coroner waitin’ for ya ta/Turn the corner so he can corner ya.” Those were the times – four years went by without a new album – when he couldn’t write or rap, often falling “asleep with writers block in the parkin’ lot of McDonalds.”

In Relapse, he is dry and off the pills. In a note to Proof in the CD liner notes, he says: “I’m still sober. I know you’d be proud.” But the temptation is still there, “Maybe just an ice-cold brew what’s a beer/That’s the devil in my ear and I’ve been sober a fuckin’ year/And that fucker still talks to me.” In Recovery, he feels confident enough to declare: “I’m strong enough to go the club or the corner pub/And lift the whole liquor counter up/’Cause I’m raising the bar.”

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American celebrity can be a strange, hermeneutically sealed beast. Em grew up in a trailer park van in Detroit. Once he became famous, he found himself in another van, that of celebrity. He’s rapped about travelling in both; till now, these have been his reference points, the world of white trash and the world of other pop singers and actors. As he turns 38 with a sober head on his shoulders, we hope he will expand his lyrical ambit and let the real world seep in too.

(The writer is the author of Eunuch Park)

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