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Eminem, eh, relapses on 'Recovery'

Welcome to the new Eminem - slightly more honest, a bit more mature and a whole lot more desperate-sounding.

"Recovery" (Aftermath) finds Em trying to regain footing after the artistic stumble of his "Relapse" album, which he admits in a new single "Not Afraid" was subpar. "To the fans, I'll never let you down again, I'm back," he raps. "I promise to never go back on that promise, in fact, let's be honest, that last 'Relapse' CD was 'eh.' "

Being honest, though, much of "Recovery" is "eh," too. For long stretches, Eminem sounds like a slugger in the midst of a slump, looking to try anything to recapture a bit of his old magic. He trots out some anti-woman talk, some passing anti-gay rhetoric and some fake beefing with imaginary rivals - but, unfortunately (fortunately?), his heart doesn't sound in it. And often, like on "Relapse," his reference points sound horribly dated - from rhymes about Mike Myers and Verne Troyer (the last "Austin Powers" movie was in 2002) to a song called "Cinderella Man" (from the 2005 Russell Crowe movie?) to "No Love" with Lil Wayne (which unfortunately samples Haddaway's 1993 dance hit "What Is Love?"). Perhaps more unsettling is his flow, which sounds far more whiny and desperate than it used to when he's tackling a particularly fast or complex passage.

Nevertheless, there are glimmers of hope. "Love the Way You Lie" is a surefire hit, featuring Rihanna singing the emotional hook and Em rhyming his way through the twists of a turbulent relationship, while "You're Never Over" combines the feel of T.I.'s "Live Your Life" with the inspiration of "Lose Yourself."

Strip away all the excess on "Recovery," and there is a kernel of what made Eminem special to begin with, what made him the most successful artist of The Aughts. Only time will tell whether he nurtures that or smothers it in repackaged bluster.

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