Eminem The Marshall Mathers LP 2

EminemThe Marshall Mathers LP 2
One of long-time listeners' frustrations with the century's most dexterous wordsmith is his hesitance to tackle targets of greater importance than the rap or pop realms. Eminem has a gift, but how often does he use it for good — beyond venting his own frustrations? Political statements such as 2004's Bush-blasting "Mosh" are rarer than fart noises or bashed gays on an Eminem LP. But Marshall's marvel is his knack for endlessly treading familiar ground with new footsteps.

Elton John's buddy pulls the peroxide out from the back corner of the vanity and goes back to tossing around the word "queer" like it's offensive. Billed as a sequel to his best front-to-back listen, now 13 years old, Em's new songs give a facelift to old themes — but thanks to his still-astounding wordplay and creative beat choices (Rick Rubin's work on "So Far…" and "Love Game" is a hoot), you can still get lost in the wrinkles. The women in his life dominate his psyche. Other familiar Shady tropes — the worthlessness of a father that abandoned him, the double-edged sword that is fame, the pot shots at pop-cult icons — appear with predictability.

This is a 41-year-old man who has spent hours dwelling on his childhood and his legacy. But if you aren't moved by his open apology to mom Debbie ("Headlights," featuring Fun.'s Nate Reuss) or sucked in by the blatant radio-engineered jingle, "The Monster" (featuring Rihanna), then just try to deny the attention to detail he crams into a 16-track wallop of emotions and jokes, confessional insight and flat-out fiction. The Oscar winner's rhyme book still has us on the edge of the seat. You won't miss Dr. Dre as much as you think. (Shady/Aftermath)