Macy Gray: The Sellout
The shy, sometimes awkard singer finds a decent plate of crossbred pop and urban R&B to navigate through without losing her magic
Bookending the front and back of Macy Gray’s new album are two songs bearing poignant titles describing her possible next steps in music. And certainly fans, critics and a horde of media junkies will gain enough momentum to start up their motor mouths when describing Gray’s album The Sellout. Of course, the question for the gritty Sly Stone-influenced musician if she’s reached either one of those titles. Is The Sellout more a “sell out” or a “comeback”?
Let the record show that Macy Gray is far from a sellout — something her album title uncomfortably injects into the air with every mention. But there’s just something sporadic and bigger about this round, unlike the will.i.am-designed Big and her best-selling 1999 breakthrough debut On How Live Is, that allows her to slip rich everlasting grooves into pallets of nostalgic rock and funk. Then there’s the rewarding melodies of songs like “Help Me,” which bears a sweet mix of mystery using Eurythmics synth crescendos on a rocking Gnarls Barkley beat. She easily finds delicious vintage rock ‘n roll (“Kissed It,” “That Man”) and bubbly Corinne Bailey Rae pop (“Let You Win”) to seep her teeth into. Swirls of peppermint pop akin to her radio gem “I Try” gets the best of “The Comeback” as she pleads to her baby to “take me back/will you come for me.” Traces of hip-hop are nestled under the grooves of the tech-friendly “On and On” and “Still Hurts.” The latter is sweetly anchored with tender hip-hop beats and a dazzling melodic chorus held up by Gray’s emotive grind. “Real Love,” an obvious highlight, finds Gray flirting with Bobby Brown on the playful opening conversation while sharing together memorable lovely-dovey lyrics (“I will walk a million miles for you/Just to visit you”) and some catchy sing-a-long lines.
The biggest gripe on Sellout could be traced back to the unfortunate lead single, “Beauty in the World.” Gray doesn’t intend to mean harm lyrically. While using a pop-focused acoustic guitar jingle, she designs a feel good anthem perfect for a Disney theme park, but the lyrics tend to become overly repetitious and a bit cheddary (“There is beauty in the world/So much beauty in the world/Shake your booty boys and girls/For the beauty in the world”). It’s as if she couldn’t find a more appropriate and catchier phrase to join together with the newest Rainbow Children mantra. “Lately,” with its mid-funky Spice Girls pop, isn’t all that disappointing. Still, it’s hard to seriously ignore Gray capping off a cool tune with kiddie poetry on the chorus (“Lately/I’ve been coming up/Just like a palm tree/People surrounding me/Yet I am popular/They say I’m pretty/You should come back to me/Lately, lately”)
The Sellout sort of streamlines her shy persona and that tough-to-sell whiskey-soaked vocal into a delicious mix that most prominent genres would enjoy. It kinda sucks to know that Gray at times seem too uncomfortable in the pop-driven marketplace. When she comes out with a different album from the previous one, in her own way of saying “I can do it too,” the genres only shrug their shoulders. It’s become a bit more whimsical for her at black radio. Some think her tenure on Dancing With the Stars may have even hurt most people from taking her serious; turning her into a practical joke for late-night fodder. But when she digs deep in her music and she’s being challenged by credible musicians like hard rock superband Velvet Revolver (on “Kissed It”) and a set of producers including Rodney Jerkins, Corey “Oz” Simon, Jared Lee Gosselin and Phillip White, the results are more rewarding. The Sellout is a super step in the right direction. It doesn’t abandon who she is musically, as the album title may suggest. Instead it masterfully compliments and reenforces her.
J MATTHEW COBB
- Release Date: 22 Jun 2010
- Label: Concord
- Producers: Macy Gray, Rodney Jerkins, Brothers Rise, Don Cannon, Chase N-Chase, Kannon “Caviar” Cross, Jared Lee Gosselin, Tony Hardy, Hit-Boy, Kaz James, Corey “Oz” Simon, Phillip White
- Track Favs: Real Love, Still Hurts, Help Me, That Man, The Comeback, Kissed It