I haven’t listened to it in a while but I remember liking “Relapse” a lot. Actually, just because I was typing a response, I went and skimmed the record again, and yeah, that album is way better than critics, fans, and even Eminem himself probably realize.
“Recovery” was cool. That came during an awkward period — album sales were really down, blog music was popular, and for the major acts of yesteryear, having hit singles was really the only way to remain relevant. That was probably the first Eminem record where I’d say the record itself sounded a tad unfocused.
Overall, I tend to agree with you though — the older he’s gotten, the further Eminem has strayed from rhyming to the music. Or, the further he’s gotten from rhyming to the music you can really hear. Often, if you pay close attention, you can tell that he’s flowing to some harmonic element in the beat that is really not as obvious as the kick, snare and the hi-hat.
It’s a very clever thing, but clever doesn’t always make for enjoyment. I also haven’t been crazy about how his newer music is mixed. His vocals are really out in front of the beat, the effect of which is that the vocal becomes the primary instrument, not the beat itself.
I think that’s actually his goal — to lead with the voice. Now, as you hear on this most recent attempt, he’s just done away with the beat altogether. I don’t really mind it that much when the beat is gone. Because then the voice becomes kind of an art form unto itself.
Not saying you can listen to that repeatedly, but I do get what he’s going for.
Unrelated: I don’t think Eminem’s music has ever been big with the Pitchfork crowd.