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It's been five years since Eminem has released a full-fledged album, and that pent-up creativity bursts through on Relapse.
If it wasn't obvious from the album title, the harrowing narratives and the numerous references to brand-name drugs that permeate the rhymes and rants, the fact that the rapper spent most of the years in between albums in a pill-addiction stupor is made blatantly clear by the photo salad of capsules on the CD sleeve.
Listening to Eminem is like watching a particularly juicy Dr. Phil episode in which you never know if the guest is going to snap and go over the edge. But they don't have the irrefutable talent that Eminem possesses. Thanks to his lyrical and verbal skills, Eminem's self-revealing glimpses into his rock-bottom slide and his childhood travails are riveting, repulsive, funny, vulgar and altogether too disturbing to be ignored.
The bouncy, bawdy hit "We Made You" is the lightest Relapse gets, with tracks like "3 a.m.," "My Mom" and "Insane" revealing as much of the torture in the term "tortured artist" that a human can endure.
It's unclear if either Eminem or the kind of inglorious art he makes was missed during his absence, but now that he's back, it's impossible to ignore its presence.
THE ALL-AMERICAN REJECTS
When the World Comes Down
The third album by the popular Oklahoma quartet finds it continuing to mine the polished teen pop-rock anthems that bands like Fall Out Boy and the Plain White Ts live and die by.
Catchy anthems like "I Wanna" and "Believe" are pleasing, upbeat, guitar ear candy, embellished by strings and keyboards. But it all sounds somewhat formulaic and there's a high school-romance era hump in the lyrics that the band just can't get over. "Fallin' Apart" is a bouncy pop song that screams "hit," but it seems geared to the same consumers who gobble up The Jonas Brothers and High School Musical.
There is some potential for growth that seeps out between the radio-friendly tracks. The charming "Mona Lisa" features a change-of-pace "Hey There Delilah" acoustic-folkie vibe, and "Another Heart Calls" finds a welcome vocal appearance by folk due The Pierces.
The All-American Rejects seem ready to bust out of their self-inflicted confines, they just have to figure out where they want to go.
BAT FOR LASHES
If you're looking for someone to replace Kate Bush as your favorite British ethereal female singer/songwriter, Bat for Lashes may fit the bill. The name is a smoke screen for Natasha Khan, whose mystical indie-pop sound incorporates electronics and studio effects to create a mesmerizing net of sound.
Two Suns, Kahn's second as Bat for Lashes, is a convoluted concept album that is weighed down by its seriousness, as it looks at Kahn's "desert-born spiritual self" and her "destructive, self-absorbed, blonde femme fatale."
The songs work better when you forget that claptrap and let the wash of sound surround you. It can be, in turn, cacophonous, like on "Siren Song," or angelic like "Moon and Moon."
Hardly anyone aspires to high art in pop music these days, as Eminem and The All-American Rejects attest. Even if it's only partially successful, Bat for Lashes deserves credit for trying.