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“Guess Who’s Back, Back Again. Shady’s Back, Tell a Friend” Yes, just when no one was wondering where he was or when he was going to come back (if at all), Eminem releases his first album in almost 6 years “Relapse” (released officially today). He left us with the 2003 release “Encore”, which was pretty much officially dubbed his Worst album by fans and critics alike. Even though it really wasn’t all that bad. Shortly thereafter in 2005 he somewhat announced his retirement coinciding with the release of his first Greatest Hits album “Curtain Call”, though he did manage to make a few collabo’s where he “murdered” fellow rappers “on their own shit” (see “Touchdown” by T.I., or the “Lean Back remix” by Fat Joe). I guess the hardcore Em “Stans” have been anticipating this release for a while now. Me? Not so much. And having listened to “Relapse” (the rappers 6th studio album) I realize why. In 2000, “The Marshall Mathers LP” really impressed me. The genius lyricism and delivery of “Stan”, the intensity of “Kim”, the fun of “The Real Slim Shady”. It was pretty much a perfect album that truly displayed what made him so popular with his debut album. The 2002 follow up “The Eminem Show” was also a bonafied Hip Hop Classic and actually had Em being a little more creative. The problem with 2003’s “Encore” and now “Relapse”, is there is really no evolution with his music. There’s really nothing on this new album that truly stood out because it feels like we’ve heard it all before. From the albums intro I thought this might be a pretty interesting concept album, about a former addict trying to Avoid a relapse. Unfortunately what we get is Eminem talking about Pop celebrities, drugs, and his mom AGAIN. He hasn’t lost any of his skills in delivery or flow, which actually helps to save the album along with the Dr. Dre production, but I’m a little disappointed because I did expect more from him with this album. Again, this isn’t a bad album… I’d say “Hello” “Crack a Bottle” “Beautiful” and “Medicine Ball” are a few of the memorable tracks. He’s supposed to be releasing “Relapse 2” sometime next year, maybe he’ll dig deeper with that one.

A little less disappointing is Busta Rhymes‘ 8th album “Back on My B.S.” (set to be released May 19th). Last year with “Throw Da Water on Em” and “We Made It” on the charts, I was really amped up for Busta’s album. Not to mention the fact that 2006’s “The Big Bang” album was actually ALOT better than I expected. Unfortunatley a new album never came out last year, and those two songs are Absent from this album (“We Made It”, his collabo with Linkin Park, is going to be available on iTunes as a iTunes bonus track). Fortunatley he has great stuff to fill the voids. This album by no means is his best, there are some obvious duds (“Hustlers Anthem” with T-Pain sounds dated, “Don’t Believe Em” featuring Akon and T.I. copies way too much from T.I.’s own “Live Your Life”, and there are a few tracks that are just missing a great hook) but there are some seriously Great Moments on this album. The current single “Respect my Conglomerate” with Jadakiss and Weezy, “Shoot for the Moon”, “We Want In” (“if 2 dollars is getting made, We want in, If a stock is getting trade, We want in” — I can relate Lol). “Kill Dem” with Pharrell is easily one of the best songs with Busta riding the dancehall beat like a pro. Busta is one of the more underrated (imo) rappers alive, and on this album he shows that he can still be relevant (check out “World Go Round” with Estelle. A perfect mash up of Dance, Electronica and Hip Hop. Flo Rida WHO?), and he can still be creative and give us the unexpected.

Now on to something completely different, The Crystal Method released their latest “Divided by Night” this month. Basically there’s Daft Punk, Basement Jaxx, Armand Van Helden than the Prodigy or the Chemical Brothers, maybe Paul Oakenfold or Fatboy Slim… bottom line, The Crystal Method were never close to being my favourite electronic group. But, with all those other guys out of commission lately (although Basement Jaxx WILL be releasing a new album this year. YES!) I turned to this album to fill the Electronica void. And, now I know why these guys aren’t my favourite. This album is only 12 tracks and it’s a bit of a task to get through it all. A lot of the songs like the title track or “Slipstream” just seem to go on and on and on, with nothing really exciting enough to keep your attention. A good majority of it sounds like old Daft Punk, especially the title track which (imo) does a terribly uninspired job of copying “Robot Rock”. There are a few high points, “Falling Hard” with Meiko being one of the best. Also the single “Drown in the Now” featuring Matisyahu, “Blunts and Robots” featuring Peter Hook or “Black Rainbows” with Stefanie King Warfield. Still the overall feel for the album to me was “Been there. Done that. No need to listen again”

The same can be said for rock group The Living Things‘ album “Habeas Corpus“. When I heard “Let it Rain” on VH1, I was really excited to hear their full album. That track is actually one of the best produced, written and vocally performed songs I’ve heard in a while. At the very least of the year. On top of that it’s catchy enough to rival some of the Pop songs out. Actually, this album sounds more like a Pop album than Rock or Alternative. It’s like harder edged Max Martin productions, but I won’t take points away for that. What I will say is the album starts off with a huge bang in “Brass Knuckles” and keeps that momentum going through to a great potential chart topper “Oxygen”. However it hits a rough patch halfway through and the album kind of dies out after that. “Island in Your Heart” is a terrible attempt at hybridizing Rock and Country music, “Post Millennium Extinction” tries hard to Rock but just lacks something in the verses. The saving grace on the bottom half of the album is another potential hit “Shake Your Shimmy”, which has an insanely addictive hook. All in all, I do think this album has enough to justify repeated listens. Who knows, It might just grow on me.

Lastly is my biggest surprise of the week. The new album from a French Pop/Rock group Phoenix entitled “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (the album hits stores in the US on May 26th, but is already available on iTunes). Now this shows how LATE I am. I’m listening to the album and loving it. Literally every minute of it, and I’m thinking I’m listening to a New group. I look on iTunes and this is the groups 4th album since 2000. I will have to listen to their prior albums to get some perspective on their music. For now, this is my favourite album of 2009. The production on this album is the main sell, this group is a weird mix of Electronica, Rock and Pop. And the backing music seems to combine the three sounds into a perfect harmony. The mostly instrumental “Love like a Sunset” is the albums peak. And it really is the best way to describe the style of the album. It’s almost as if Daft Punk remixed The Beatles mid-60’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” era music, with a little inspiration vocally and lyrically from The Killers. Other insta-classics are “Lasso” “Girlfriend” and “Fences”. Every song here is great though, and with only 10 tracks this album will easily get repeated plays.