One of Eminem’s most striking images from this “Recovery” campaign is of the rapper sitting inside a glass box, set up in the middle of city, in what looks like a living room with a television and couch and all. He’s reading a book, an activity or restoration, yes, recovery, a recommended course of action for any young star(let), too, struggling with fame and panty pictures.

But this is Slim Shady we’re talking about here, at least on the opener “Cold Wind Blows.” That photo is a lonely, holistic and claustrophobic picture painted of a man whose first track on this first set drops the usual: slut, c*nt, p*ssy, sucking d*ck, f*ggot. A puff of the chest, a slew of tired jokes against tired celebs like Michael Vick, Michael J. Fox, Mariah Carey and Elton John. When Em puts on the Shady hat, he really, really wants you to think he’s back, and can spit like he’s 25.
 
Marshall Mathers is 37. This is not an ageist statement or a petition for him to hang up that hat. But it’s certainly a time in his career to heed the editing process, to know when a zinger’s just not a zinger, and to rhyme with relevance that he uniquely possesses as one of the few hugely talented hip-hop stars still capable of making meaningful records after more than a dozen years into the game. He stands, and walks (and sits and reads) alone.
 
A couple of instances of that independent, inimitable voice are in cuts like current single “Not Afraid,” and “Talkin’ 2 Myself,” the latter on which he ponders a time when he was jealous of the Kanye Wests of the rap world and admits he’d probably have his “ass handed to me” should he beef. There’s his take on the biz in terms of prison sentences on “25 to life” and weary bones of Black Sabbath-sampling “Going Through Changes” in which Em explains how impossible it is for him to explain just what happened over the last “couple of years.” He goes way, way back on "W.T.P.," with a slick beat and some good history.
 
Those other voices, though, are coming up with the raggedy ends of eye-rolling one-liners like on “Won’t Back Down” (despite the incredible vocals from Pink). “On Fire” had me giggling one moment (“mother*cking fire truck’s on fire”) and then shaking my head at a David Cook reference (want a real flame war? Try Adam Lambert and his fans). The misspent sample of Haddaway's ‘90s dance classic "What Is Love" with special guest Lil Wayne on “No Love” all together is like trying mix oil and bong water.
 
Longtime collabo Dr. Dre only makes his mark on one track, the not-particularly Dre-ish “So Bad”; Rihanna shows up on “Love the Way You Lie,” a mixed blessing. The title “Seduction” suggests that maybe here’s a little something for the ladies, with the auto-tune flitting over the fake strings and the refrain “girls on the floor” kicking Em into that high register rap. Bu a better title would have been “Deception”: he spends more time tongue-lashing the "girl’s" boyfriend than the girl. “She’s got her jaw stuck from suckin’ my d*ck,” doesn't exactly moan “white hot sex jam,” which was his point. But that was the point?
 
Em is ready for the criticism, because “critics never have nothin’ nice to say, man” and, frankly, what I say or other critics say won’t affect what will surely be decent sales for “Recovery.” Because “Recovery” is a better record than “Relapse,” has a better single, better future singles (ooooh I do like “Space Bound” [Ed.: fixed] and the stomp clap of “Cinderella Man”) and has a forthrightness that will take fans back on a few choice cuts. He alludes to his “second chances” – in his life, as well as a do-over after head-spinningly bad “Relapse” from last year. But 17 tracks is a labor; he’s topping some of his hottest meals with the bits and pieces from the kitchen sink. Maybe that’s why this set is called “Recovery” and not “Recovered.”