Retro Modern “Retro” Pick: Macy Gray’s “Sexual Revolution” (Single)
Introduction: “Sexual Revolution” was the second single from Macy Gray’s second LP, The Id. The song was considered at the time of its release to be a dramatic departure from the neo-soul style that brought Gray to prominence with her first album, the commercially and critically acclaimed On How Life Is (1999).
“Sexual Revolution” shifted Gray successfully into the dance music genre with its unique approach to post-modern disco; further, the song acted as a doorway to the varied artistry encapsulated throughout her musical canon as she kept recording.
Synopsis: After several years of operating at the fringe of popular music, Gray’s first album On How Life Is (Epic) gave the singer-songwriter her big score. The album shifted multiple platinum units, wowed critics and helped neo-soul gain greater exposure among white audiences. The bar was set very high for Gray to top herself with her next outing.
Gray got to work on The Id (Epic), her second LP, as On How Life Is began to cool in early 2000. Whereas her debut had been steered by one producer (Andrew Slater), The Id needed to explore the technicolor end of the rhythm and blues spectrum. This was accomplished by Gray pairing up with Darryl Swann and Raphael Saadiq, the primary production buttresses to Gray’s stated aural fantasia on The Id. Tethered by her witty, idiosyncratic lyrics and scratchy, sweet vocals, Gray’s second album was a cartoon explosion of funk and soul, both vintage and contemporary.
Preceded by the surprisingly staid, but pretty ballad “Sweet Baby” on September 3, 2001, The Id was unleashed on September 18, 2001. Her timing, through no fault of her own, for the bump and groove of The Id couldn’t have been more ill-timed in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. Whether or not the album’s mixed commercial and critical reception was due to Gray’s supposed “indulgence,” as some hard-nosed critics opined, or the dampened global mood after 9/11, Gray stood by her work.
As proof of her confidence in her experimental masterstroke, Gray selected “Sexual Revolution” as the second single from the long player. It received a proper release on November 26, 2001 and was backed on the b-side end by a spunky cover of “Winter Wonderland.”
Up to this point, Gray’s sound had been primarily confined to the mentioned neo-soul bracket with occasional dalliances in hip-hop and jazz. “Sexual Revolution” was a ballsy rewrite of post-modern disco music in her own image. The track opened with a dramatic fiddle and squelchy horn drawl before it spilled into a swirling dervish of funk-pop. Lyrically, the song was a canny send-up to (semi-polite) sexual anarchy, vocally realized by Gray’s stellar performance. The scratchiness remained, but with a range that acted as a preview to her wider singing capabilities that frequented her later albums.
Commercially, the single made minimal waves (U.S. Hot Dance Club Play #4, U.K. #45). One could lay the blame at the feet of Epic Records, whose support of Gray had evaporated with her second LP. But, in truth, “Sexual Revolution” made the mistake of being a song too frothy for American radio that was suddenly too enthralled with homogeneity versus diversity. Though Gray closed up promotional shop on The Id after its second single, its legacy as a portent to the experimentation heard further on in her discography lives on.