Eminem is calling a do-over. Last year's gory Relapse, his first full-length release after a four-year battle with addiction, sold briskly but left many listeners unsatisfied including, it seems, the rapper himself. ''Them last two albums didn't count/[2004's] Encore I was on drugs, Relapse I was flushing 'em out,'' he confesses on Recovery's ''Talkin' 2 Myself.'' ''I've got something to prove to fans, 'cause I feel like I let 'em down.''
He's too hard on himself. Relapse had its merits, and Recovery originally titled Relapse 2 before a late switch shares them. For the second album in a row, Eminem returns to the verbal acrobatics that defined his early work, showering these 17 songs with dazzling cadences and multisyllabic rhymes. Lil Wayne, the album's sole rap guest, spits more fiercely than he has in a year and still barely keeps up. In an era when flimsy lyrics rule hip-hop, the redoubled craftsmanship that screams from Eminem's verses deserves all the more respect.
But like the slasher-flick-esque Relapse before it, Recovery falters when it comes to those verses' subject matter. At times, Eminem seems more mature, paying heartfelt tribute to a late friend, grappling frankly with his pill-popping past, and striving to spread the inner peace that sobriety has brought him. Yet these moments are undermined by others that seethe with as much contempt for women and gays as ever. Even when sharing tracks with pop queens like Pink and Rihanna, he's enraged. Gratuitous nastiness is nothing new for Eminem, but if he really wants to prove something, he could try recording an entire album without any. B+