I suppose that the excitement behind the promise of an Eminem comeback was the implication that the guy was coming back for a reason. He’d been in rehab in 2005. His best friend was shot and killed in 2006, the same year he remarried and then redivorced his wife. His daughter, whose baby talk and wide-eyed, uncomprehending assists on various Eminem revenge fantasies and family tell-alls had made her the most famous toddler in music, is now a teenager–not exactly the time to be absenting yourself as a father. He’s the best-selling rapper in history, one of a handful of musicians on the planet with nothing left to prove, whose pseudo-retirement in 2005 corresponded almost exactly with the precipitous decline of the industry as a whole. When he left, he handed the keys to 50 Cent, a rapper who surely didn’t forget to tell Eminem once or twice in ensuing years exactly how much fun it was to be an artist in an era when records sell one-tenth of what they used to and TRL no longer exists. Eminem made more money than even a hardcore drug addict could comfortably spend in one lifetime, and ducked out before the advent of TMZ. The only possible reason a guy like that would come back would be because he had a burning desire to do so, right?
And yet, on the strength of four songs –“Crack a Bottle,” “We Made You,” “3 A.M.,” and now “Old Time’s Sake,” which just leaked this morning–it’s nearly impossible to figure out what’s motivating Eminem to rap in 2009. And though the craft is on a slow upward burn–“3AM,” for all the jerking off to the Neve Campbell/Skeet Ulrich sex scene in Scream zero-content horrorcore lyrics, was technically dazzling, and “Old Time’s Sake” has a kind of swagger that’s been conspicuously missing to date, although that brutal crutch of an accent remains–it’s completely baffling that Eminem’s returning to a wrecked industry and even more ravenous tabloid culture to peddle a series of track 11-type filler. These are below average songs by a great rapper–his old records are full of ’em, and god knows it’s not a crime to rap well about not much over production by Dr. Dre. “Old Time’s Sake”–on which Dre fully embraces the faux-Dre cadence of the reference tracks Eminem ghostwrites for him–is about getting high and angry and laid, three things you’d think both MCs would be over by now. There are some weird product endorsements–Verizon Wireless, Creatine, Hpnotiq, Red Bull. “It’s an incredible energy drink, and it’s giving me wings,” he says about that last one. Which, if nothing else, is further evidence that in 2009, Eminem’s best friend is very likely his own television. Maybe that’s why he’s coming back?
Plus, since we ought to, the video for “3 A.M.”: