For a while there, it looked like Eminem was finished. After he cancelled the European leg of his world tour in 2004 - including a massive Irish date at Slane - because of 'exhaustion' and his admission of a prescription pill addiction, it looked like one of the most popular rappers of the '90s and '00s had burned out. His (second) marriage breakdown and the murder of his best friend were also contributing factors to his ever-extending hiatus, while rumours of weight gain and depression further fuelled the claims that his career was at an end.
In a way, it all made the prospect of the now 36-year-old Mathers' return more thrilling. Surely, this comeback album will be loaded with needle-sharp lyrical insights into his inner turmoil, via his refined don't-give-a-damn attitude?
Well, there's certainly plenty of songs about his drug addiction; 'Crack a Bottle' features long-time collaborator Dr. Dre as well as 50 Cent, but is far from the best track, 'Medicine Ball' is similarly uninspiring and 'Must Be the Ganja' is as tedious as any song about marijuana usually is. He also returns to his old reliables (Mom, childhood abuse) a little too frequently, although he does admit as much, while the usual lampooning of celebrities (Mariah Carey, Kim Kashardian, even 'Amy and Blake') is almost a trademark for the rapper at this point.
It's Eminem's ability to create tense, ominous stories like kidnap tale 'Same Song and Dance' and stream-of-consciousness of a serial killer/rapist 'Stay Wide Awake' where his talent really gleams, however - both songs inhabit the mind of their protagonist almost as well as Bret Easton Ellis did with Patrick Bateman.
Musically, there's enough drama, tension, skitters and laidback hooks - including the ballad-like 'Beautiful' to keep interest ticking over; his wired energy as a word-slinger shows no sign of depleting, either. He may be recycling ideas to a certain extent, but he still delivers them in a mostly original manner - and that's what makes Eminem special.