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Album Review: Eminem’s ‘Recovery’

Eminem

“Recovery”

Interscope/Aftermath

Two and a half stars

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Ever since Kanye West looped Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” the hip-hop zeitgeist has tilted toward techno. Skinny-jeaned stars Wiz Khalifa and Kid Cudi have rapped over Alice Deejay and Robert Miles, while Power 106 keeps house DJ David Guetta in heavy rotation.

Admirably, Eminem has always ignored evanescent trends. Despite an over-reliance on gross-out gags and tired pop culture riffs, his last album, “Relapse,” further plumbed the weird depths of his psyche, stringing together Hannibal Lecter fantasies and byzantine rhyme schemes to create something singular but scattershot. Yet on his sixth album, “Recovery,” he ushers in the “Night at the Roxbury” era, sampling Haddaway’s “What Is Love,” the Eurodance ballad mocked in the “Saturday Night Live” skits and spinoff movie.

The song (“No Love”) isn’t as awful as it is illustrative of the pitfalls facing Marshall Mathers and the music business writ large. In its quest for six-digit download numbers, the industry has reduced Eminem, Lil Wayne and highly gifted producer Just Blaze to plundering grooves for the silk-shirt and silver-suited set — a cheesiness the young Slim Shady would’ve pilloried.

“Recovery” is thwarted by similarly ill-fitting decisions. Beats from his longtime collaborators the Bass Brothers and Dr. Dre are largely nonexistent save for the latter’s co-production on “So Bad.” In their stead are anthemic, hackneyed hooks and big-budget producers du jour (Boi-1Da, Jim Jonsin, DJ Khalil) at their most monochromatic and monotonous.

Cameos from Pink (“Won’t Back Down”) and Rihanna (“Love the Way You Lie”) further exacerbate the disconnect from the qualities that made Eminem a star: wariness of cultural cliché, knack for storytelling and conflict, and a caustic wit.

Thematically, Eminem eschews the offbeat for the inspirational, with the 12-step single “Not Afraid” serving as a manifesto for his newfound sobriety. The central salvation is Mather’s enduring virtuosity. Throughout “Recovery,” he weaves dazzling internal patterns and clever word play.

But ultimately, until Eminem is able to restore the memory of what got him to the top in the first place, full recovery is impossible.

— Jeff Weiss

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War and peace with a beat

Laurie Anderson

“Homeland”

Nonesuch Records

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Four stars

Only Laurie Anderson, the violin-playing poet laureate of American estrangement, could make an industrial-tinged club banger that dives into the following topics with clear-eyed passion, anguish and humor: America’s blind trust in authority; the media’s appetite for spectacle; the subprime mortgage collapse and the ensuing domino effect on the market; and, last but not least, current and former U.S. policies of preemptive invasion and detention without trial. Phew — got all that? Thank goodness you can dance to it, or else you might crumple to the floor in tears.

For every overtly political turn like “Only An Expert,” Anderson, on her first studio album in nine years, includes an atmospheric meditation on modern existence or, sometimes, love, giving the title, “Homeland,” resonance beyond the nationalistic meaning. On “Strange Perfumes,” one of the songs with vocals from kindred New York artist Antony Hegarty, she sings, “Where does love go when love is gone? To what war-torn city?” It perfectly evokes the level of deep symbolism that Anderson’s working on throughout “Homeland,” one where war is not only a tragedy in and of itself but a metaphor for other states of loss or alienation.

Produced by Anderson, her husband Lou Reed and Roma Baran, “Homeland” was sewn together from bits mostly recorded from improvisations on tour. The performance artist road-tested the album’s powerful narratives for more than two years, bringing in performers including avant-garde saxophonist John Zorn and experimental electronic musician Kieran Hebden of Four Tet. It’s a fascinating way of putting together a work that has a profoundly nomadic feel — from the opening song “Transitory Life” to the natively wandering Tuvan throat singers who appear on certain tracks to Anderson’s own roaming proclivities between music, art, political activism, all tying into a world of breathless ideas. “Homeland” isn’t so much an album as it is a poetic capturing of the still moments of a restless mind.

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— Margaret Wappler

Trio embarks on rollicking ride

Jason Moran

“Ten”

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Blue Note

Three and a half stars

Artistic rivalries are generally an overblown concept in music, something for obsessives to debate over drinks. Still, in the wake of the avalanche of acclaim received by pianist Vijay Iyer last year for his excellent trio album “Historicity,” it’s hard not to wonder if the similarly lauded Jason Moran is issuing a response with “Ten,” a new album backed by his longtime rhythm section, the Bandwagon.

A startlingly gifted pianist with a relentless thirst for experimentation, Moran returns to a trio format after teaming with guitarist Marvin Sewell for two records, and the results are devastatingly sharp. Blasting out of a bluesy opening that briefly brushes against “Georgia on My Mind,” “Blue Blocks” builds on a driving rhythm from drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Tarus Mateen as Moran’s keyboard flutters and gathers strength, finally resembling two pianos locked in a joyful duet. “Feedback Pt. 2" shows Moran’s taste for sonic adventure remains intact as a Jimi Hendrix sample is twisted into a metallic whisper as the trio swirls through a ghostly, unsettling ballad. Later, Thelonious Monk’s “Crepuscule With Nellie” gets a bold yet reverent reworking as Moran leads the trio through a reshuffled deconstruction of the melody that captures the original while still sounding new.

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Moran further honors his influences with a rollicking take on Jaki Byard’s “To Bob Vatel of Paris” and “Play to Live,” a contemplative, restless piece Moran wrote with Andrew Hill. Also offering takes on classical composers Conlon Nancarrow and Leonard Bernstein, “Ten” is an unpredictable, imaginative ride. Of course, it’s just a happy coincidence that Iyer and Moran would release such remarkable trio records in consecutive years, but imagining these two musicians pushing each other to new heights for years to come sure sounds good regardless.

— Chris Barton


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