Album reviews: Eminem, Drake, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Posted: June 24, 2010 in Album Reviews

Eminem – Recovery: Last year, Eminem returned from a long hiatus and released Relapse, which was solid but unspectacular. It had some wonderful raps, but some silly ones as well, and was full of the misogynistic and homophobic lyrics that have littered all of his releases. It was a bit disappointing, given all he had been through since the release of 2004’s Encore. His best friend and collaborator Proof was killed in a gunfight at a club. He went through a deep depression and delved into drug abuse even more, getting addicted to painkillers, sleeping pills and just about anything else he could get his hands on. He reportedly put on a ton of weight and was hospitalized, eventually going into a drug rehab center. While there were some mentions of everything that happened to him on Relapse, there was way too many attempts at comedy and plenty of slasher imagery fantasies, as he rapped about killing female celebs like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. Also, he continued the tired old beef he has with Mariah Carey of all people, and while those raps were sometimes funny, I found myself yearning for something more from Em. He’s always been a fantastic rapper, with a flow and wordplay virtually unmatched in the game. So, I was extremely pleased when I heard Recovery this week, which is actually the release Relapse should have been. Here, he apologizes to fans for what he views as bad albums (Encore and Relapse had their moments, but they weren’t up to the standards of the Marshall Mathers LP or The Eminem Show) and addresses his many problems of the past five years. He discusses his drug addiction and personal insecurities in “Talkin’ To Myself” where he admits that he was jealous of rappers like Lil Wayne, T.I. and Kanye West for no other reason than they were putting out quality material while he sat at home with his addictions. It’s very refreshing when an artist lays his emotions bare for all to see, and several times it comes through in this album. On tracks like “Going Through Changes” and “You’re Never Over”, he pays tribute to Proof with poignant heart-felt lyrics, including a chillingly effective use of a Black Sabbath sample on “Changes.” Elsewhere, he tackles his abusive relationship with ex-wife Kim on “Love the Way You Lie”, which includes a great hook sung by Rihanna (no stranger to domestic violence, making it all the more heartfelt), admitting he still loves Kim several times on the album although he knows its best they’re not together. His love for his daughters is genuine, which makes the misogyny still found here confusing, although Eminem has always been a complex guy, a tough nut to crack if you will. This isn’t a serious affair all the way out, as Eminem’s sick humor can still be found on tracks like “Cold Wind Blows” and “White Trash Party”. The 17 tracks are an exhilarating ride, and well worth it. Eminem delivers the goods for his best release since The Eminem Show.
Sod rating: ****

Drake – Thank Me Later: Drake is relatively new to the rap game, but he’s already a superstar, thanks to a self-made mixtape, a smash single in “Best I Ever Had and a quality debut EP.
His first full-length album was much anticipated, and it delivers on the promise of his EP. Drake successfully weaves his deft rapping with indelible hooks throughout, sung well by the rapper himself. He’s no R&B superstar crooner, but you can feel his emotions in his singing, which is good enough for me.
First single “Over” deals with his meteoric rise to fame with lines like “I know way too many people here right now that I didn’t know last year” with utmost sincerity. He’s wary of the many new “friends” he has, but pays tribute to the ones that have been with him throughout elsewhere on the album.
Drake doesn’t come across as a punk or thug, yet he’s far from squeaky clean either. He walks the fine line and his honesty is refreshing. He deals with a love lost on “Karaoke” as his girlfriend couldn’t handle his rapidly changing lifestyle, yet he longingly wishes she could have.
On “Fancy,” Drake gives love to the women that work for their money and don’t take crap from anyone, which is probably refreshing to superstars since many women probably just throw themselves at them without thinking. Mentors Jay-Z and Lil Wayne appear in the album, as Drake has several rap and R&B luminaries appear here, showing he’s got good taste (and an ear for hits). Alicia Keys sings the hook to opening track “Fireworks” and Mary J. Blige shows up at the end of “Fancy”.
Top flight producers like Kanye West and Timbaland also make appearances, and the music is never boring as a result. Drake has arrived, and I look forward to seeing what he does in the coming decade.
Sod rating: ****

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Mojo: Tom Petty last recorded with the Heartbreakers in 2002, when the band put out The Last DJ, the only album they’ve ever released that I didn’t care for. It had good intentions, as it railed against corporate behemoths that controlled the music industry and also lamented the downfall of radio stations across the country. Good idea, poor execution. On Mojo, the band is back, and it sounds better than it ever has. Rocks perhaps harder than it ever has, too. Only one problem – Petty’s songs don’t really match the performances. While there isn’t a bad song here, there’s no instant classics. No American Girl, Free Fallin’ or Refugee. That’s not saying the album is bad, because it certainly isn’t. The band, led by guitarist Mike Campbell, are the real stars here. On bluesy numbers like “Jefferson Jericho Blues” and “U.S. 41,” they rock with reckless abandon. You really get to enjoy the quality musicianship on full display here. The album has got plenty of filler, but its expertly crafted filler and enjoyable nonetheless. This would be a real triumph if Petty was in peak songwriting form. Maybe next time.
Sod rating: *** 1/2


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