With album sales declining as a result of the cherry-picking tendencies fostered by downloading, you might have thought a logical response would be to trim away the extraneous fat that albums developed during the compact disc era, and return to something like the all-killer, no-filler approach of the vinyl era.
But with the same keen instincts that led the industry into decline, labels are pursuing exactly the opposite strategy: making the album experience an even more protracted, lower-quality affair, by reissuing them several months after their initial release, bulked out with an additional seven or eight tracks presumably deemed not good enough to make the cut the first time round. It's the music industry equivalent of the dead-cat bounce, with any sense of style or conceptual completeness possessed by the original album being destroyed by the extra deadweight.
The latest willing victim of this treatment is Eminem, whose comeback album Relapse is now reissued as Relapse: Refill, though Relapse: Filler would be a more accurate title. The seven new tracks include one videogame-soundtrack piece, Taking My Ball; one safety-in-numbers multi-star single, Forever, in which Eminem gets to trample all over the efforts of Drake, Kanye West and Lil Wayne, demonstrating how a penchant for the outlandish and a willingness to take verbal chances will score over playa cliches every time; and several more examples of the cartoonish, hyperbolic sex-and-horror nonsense with which Relapse was already overstuffed in the first place. Buffalo Bill seems to subject Lindsay Lohan to a Silence of the Lambs-style skinning, Music Box adds food imagery to the psycho-fantasy recipe, while Hell Breaks Loose employs plenty of nimble medical abbreviation — CPR, ECG, that sort of thing — over an urgent groove from Dr Dre.
By far the most enjoyable of the new material is Elevator, an ironic reflection on Eminem's former situation, freestyling on street corners and fantasising about stardom: “He said, what if you went platinum? I'd just laugh at him, that's not happenin', that I can't fathom/ 80-some million records worldwide later, I'm livin' in a house with a f**kin' elevator”. Being Eminem, the elevator eventually gets used for nefarious purposes — it's as if he suffers from a kind of homicidal Tourette's — but as with earlier tracks such as Yellow Brick Road and Like Toy Soldiers, there's an underlying awareness of where he's come from and how he's changed that goes much deeper than most of his peers.
DOWNLOAD THIS: Elevator; Hell Breaks Loose; Forever