Perhaps I’m a bit obsessed with Macy Gray’s new album. I can’t walk down the street at this point without bits of the trouble with being myself stalking me from within my own mind. Take this as a strong endorsement of the album.
I have about half a dozen favorites out of twelve songs. The pre-album single was “when i see you,” which I gushed on about extensively. It’s a fine classic pop-soul song that Marvin Gaye would have been proud of.
Epic released “she ain’t right for you” as a single to correspond with the release of the album. It’s a big soul ballad broadly in the stylistic range of her main hit, “I Try.” However, there’s no sign of this making any dent at radio. Take this as a sign of the musical illiteracy of the market. Years of listening to tuneless crappy rap records or even less musical Linkin Park, Rob Zombie and other such illiterate nonsense apparently has left consumers unable to even recognize a real song like this when they hear one.
“it ain’t the money” features a couple of rap verses (courtesy of “pharoahe monch”) which are not in themselves the most tuneful parts of the album, but Macy’s choruses (“bet you’re giving head to a movie star”) really took root in my brain after about the second listen. Also co-writer Beck has one notable repeated low vocal hook line (“Ain’t it funny how the money makes the honey taste like nothing”).
This record gets the most out of the basic song with lots of thoughtfully embedded musical and vocal colors. The quick horn sounding riff that opens the record, for example, and several distinctive bits of electric piano among other touches take turns jumping out with repeated listening. This album is probably her most impressive on a production level. Every song has its own distinctive sound and unique colors.
This production quality comes out very much in “Happiness.” It features some particularly distinctive backing vocals from a “children’s choir” behind the narcotized “happiness” of a self-described junkie. The flat affect of the vocal harmonies emphatically stomping out the word “ha-pi-NEEESS” after Macy’s all done with it really makes the record. Note also the Spanish guitar solo over hip-hop beat in the last minute of the song. It’s entirely new bonus musical thought after we’ve already had a full song.
The song that really stalks my consciousnes is “My Fondest Childhood Memories.” Macy’s making like some funky Maxwell Edison. Thing is, Paul McCartney’s narrator was a very glib creation. Macy, by contrast, seems to be reflecting some deep emotional fault lines in this perfectly cheerful sounding tale of a child murdering her parents’ parmours. After a few listens, the emotional realness under the fantasy can become disturbing.
It bounces along with a kind of latin funk beat, specifically referencing a quote from her classic “I’ve Committed Murder,” only in a completely different melodic context- “And I don’t feel bad about it.” Note also the bits of honky tonk player piano. There’s a little recurrent sax riff that sounds like young Macy sneaking up the stairs to whack that plumber she had caught “plunging” her mother.
We’ll see what else turns up yet, but this sounds like an outstanding candidate for album of the year.