Concept albums are generally a good idea.  When a band or artist lacks inspiration or their current act has gotten stale it’s an awfully great crutch to fall back on.  It allows them to create a series of characters and focus only on telling stories revolving around that group.  There’s no need to differentiate from what they do best since the nature of the concept album allows the artist to repeatedly touch on similar themes throughout the disc.
Enter Eminem, 2007 edition. 
Coming off of a fairly serious drug addiciton, Eminem reached that point in a star’s career where he can either: keep doing the same old thing, falling behind the times, thus making himself irrelevant; or, he could try something new, or slightly innovative and hope that the avant garde style that brought him to prominence had one more lap in the gas tank. 
After nearly two years of work, 2009’s “Relapse” is a bit of both those ideas.  It’s still Mr. Mathers, it’s still over the top, still shocking, but this time he dials in as his alter ego “Slim Shady” from the jump and never takes the character’s hands from off the steering wheel.  He uses the idea of the concept album to parallel the addiction and subsequent rehab of “Slim Shady” against the one he experienced in his own life.  What ensues is a journey of enlightenment into the things that helped produce an individual who advocates raping drunk 15 year olds, and who aspires to murder celebrities.  (Shady takes one last dig at Christopher Reeves, promises Nick Cannon a beatdown and he even asks Lindsey Lohan to call the cops because someone is breaking into her home and he hasn’t had chance to finish murdering her yet.) 
Underneath the hood of all of this questionable lyrical content is the thing that makes me feel guilty for liking the album so much: the music.  Dr. Dre has once again done what Dr. Dre so easily does.  He’s made half of a record, immaculate in it’s production and handed over the reigns to Mr. Mathers to say and do what he pleases on top of it.  Any one of these songs could be a groovy, funk laden instrumental, but Eminem finds a way to contort the rhythms into the sickest rhymes imaginable, giving seemingly “windows down, bass up” music a very “holy crap, I don’t want people to know I like this” kind of vibe.
Eminem may not have actually relapsed after his rehab in the same manner as his alter ego, but it feels like so much of his brain and emotion were left all over this record.  The passion that he showed at the beginning of the decade seems to have returned, in a slightly different, more adult form.  Only question is, has America grown up with him?