Macy Gray isn’t all about ego

· Sep 26, 2001 Tweet


Although it would be easy to pigeonhole Macy Gray into the categories of fresh, confident and R&B (Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, India.Arie), the Ohio native is simply too complex to categorize. Even though her songs are sonically a mile deep with hooks and grooves, they possess a singularity that removes them from the rest of the pack. This is unique stuff, sounding unlike anything else currently on the musical radar.

The uniqueness, of course, begins at Gray’s voice ? a gentle growl that owes as much to Tom Waits as it does to Billie Holiday. Her songs themselves are interesting slices of melancholy, tales of love gone wrong and love left unrequited. She never lets the listener off easy, especially when she’s delivering lyrics like “It’s amazing what a gun to the head can do/ Now my man loves me as hard as he can.”

Her first album, On How Life Is, was a revelation, the sound of a monumental talent being unleashed upon the world. Her new album, The Id, avoids the sophomore slump and cements her position near the top of the R&B/soul pack.

While nothing here is as memorable as 1998’s sweepingly beautiful “I Try,” there are moments in which Gray’s slightly bizarre brand of R&B nearly achieves the heights of that popular single. Right off the bat, “Relating to a Psychopath” sets the rules of the game: percolating grooves, catchy hooks and Gray’s ruggedly effective voice combined with off-kilter lyrics.

Throughout the album, Gray keeps insisting on her insanity, as she did recently in a creepy interview with Vibe. It often seems as though she is purposely making the songs as strange as possible, both in their content and in their presentation. This insistence seems increasingly strained and overdone every time she mentions it, but there is no doubt that these songs sound like the work of a troubled mind. Besides, right or wrong, as long as she keeps making music like this, her mental health will somehow seem secondary.

“Hey Young World II” is a classic example of her strange condition, a warm bit of advice to the younger generation in which Gray duets with convicted felon Slick Rick.

“Freak Like Me,” the album’s highlight, is a classic marriage of heavy, orchestral soul and the continuing theme of mental instability.

There are more earnestly moving songs as well. “Sweet Thing,” which features co-vocals from Erykah Badu, is a tender love song, and “Boo” is an aching lament of the highest order. When Gray says “The way he treats me it’s obvious he’s confusing me with some dumb bitch who’ll stick around,” no listener can help but believe her. Finally, there’s “Sexual Revolution,” an excited rush in which gently insistent horns, sweeping strings and the grounded precision of the background vocals help create a get-down-and-groove number perfect for any block or house party.

The Id is not an album that provides easy answers, but one that holds much treasure for those who are willing to accept some ambiguity and complexity amidst the memorable choruses and infectious arrangements.

Despite her morose attitude (she told Vibe that she doesn’t expect to live to the age of thirty), Macy Gray has produced two albums of the richest, most rewarding music being made today. Let’s hope that her fatalistic prediction is more fiction than fact.


This article was published Sep 26, 2001 at 7:00 am and last updated Sep 26, 2001 at 7:00 am


UW-Madison's Premier Independent Student Newspaper

All Content © The Badger Herald, 1995 - 2023