Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - This Unruly Mess I've Made Review

At the finale of the excessively orchestral ‘Light Tunnels,’ Macklemore quotes his sophomore LP’s title “time to explain this unruly mess I've made.” It sets the album up for an interesting juxtaposition of controversial talent in the age of social media spotlight. A white conscious rapper arising out of the dewy ashes of Seattle’s underground to become the face of a genre spearheaded by a race, a struggle, a movement, unbeknownst to him. It isn’t his fault The Heist won album of the year, defeating Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city, an album everyone, including Macklemore himself, knew was better. The title of The Heist’s follow-up teetered on the edge of alluring and tantalizing, with anticipation arising purely off the intrigue of what his explanation is. ‘Light Tunnels,’ a song revolving around his trip and success at the Grammy’s set up this paramount album perfectly. Self-aware while also being self-assured. And yet, with the first lines of ‘Downtown,’ the next track and lead single, veering on a moped into view, Macklemore diminished all the possibilities he had with This Unruly Mess I’ve Made by failing to commit to a single ideology, criticizing the industry and masses whilst simultaneously adhering to their every whim.

Interestingly enough I don’t hate ‘Light Tunnels’ or ‘Downtown.’ I quite enjoy them both in regards to their different styles. The former could be seen as a trip into the mind of a man in unfamiliar waters, the latter a glorious (sometimes excessive) romp around a simply foolish topic. He’s Macklemore, and with songs like ‘Downtown’ and ‘Dance-Off,’ amongst others, filling in this release, he sure as hell can’t be accused of being fake. Suburban teens raised on Hip-Hop tend to have a problem with content, resorting to tropes long overdue, withered for daily struggles to which college Bro Rap becomes the easiest outlet. I appreciate Macklemore’s thin-lipped, front-filled commentary on the world around him, from his racial dilemmas in ‘White Privilege ii’ to his inconsistencies with intake on ‘Let’s Eat,’ deliberately removing depth in place of simplicity and sincerity. It doesn’t make for a skilled artist, but it is surprisingly refreshing for a critic like me who constantly has to scour songs for their true meaning. This certainly puts This Unruly Mess in a stripped, yet expected, light to the point where I can’t see myself enjoying many of these songs conceptually after a couple listens. Being that Macklemore thrives off his talking points this isn’t a good look.

As mentioned before, much of the album comes from a frustrating place where commercial meets creativity. ‘Downtown’ was an obvious ‘Thrift Shop’ thrift, made purely to get the masses back on the hype train, regardless of the shoe-ned Hip-Hop legends who work as little more than prop pieces. Things began to dissipate when the independent artist meets the character the industry wants him to be. On ‘Light Tunnels’ Macklemore voices his hopes that he “don’t get turned into a meme.” Two songs later he makes ‘Brad Pitt’s Cousin,’ a track engulfed in joke rap at nauseating levels. "Made an Instagram for my cat, and my cat doesn't even rap” and "Shoutout to the homie D, who's D? Deez nuts” are just two of the accusers. Worse yet is his texting conversation with God who tells him to kill every beat he meets. What does Macklemore immediately follow that up with? "I kill the beat just like it's a pussy, and I eat it up and beat it up and leave it. You cannot compete with us.” This comes on the same album as ‘Kevin,’ an emotional detour advocating against America’s consumption of prescribed medication. Much of This Unruly Mess acts like an artist who sold his soul to the Devil only to regret it and rip half back.

But oh by the way, this album is made by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. You’d never know it though, regardless of all the fingerprints the latter splatters over this album. Much like Macklemore and his inharmonious content, Ryan Lewis is much the same, with compositions that fringe on orchestral renditions with faceless emotions. Think Glee. ‘Let’s Eat’ fills this quota perfectly, with the confusing unnecessities of over production matching the back-and-forth direction Macklemore has in promoting body image issues. Strings, pianos, outwardly expressive choirs all find their way into the landscape of most songs, some working more honestly than others. ‘White Privilege ii,’ a controversial track that I appreciate but won’t get into here, the production reeks of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, primarily the powerful ‘u,' to the point where it’s almost offensive. On ‘Need To Know’ the Gospel-centric, organic foundation immediately had me thinking “this sounds like a Chance song,” before finding out it essentially was minutes later when the Chi town rapper appeared. But when Lewis cuts back the facade exquisite beats can be found, like standout ‘St.Ides,’ which uses small moving percussions with dazzling guitar plucks to interlude Macklemore’s verses. It’s simple, and doesn’t try to ooh or aah.

Thankfully for that song, and maybe one or two more, Macklemore or Ryan Lewis don’t try to accentuate the facade for gross appeal. ‘Buckshot’ works because it wants to be a Boom Bap Hip-Hop track, and that’s exactly what it does. ‘St.Ides’ doesn’t try to evade the soothingness it captures, while ‘Kevin’ gets to be overwrought due to its downtrodden content. It’s when songs like ‘Dance-Off’ try to become a banger off some outrageously silly decision-making, or ‘The Train’ profits off unnecessary emotive dissonance, even bringing Carla Morrison in to sing the chorus in soap opera Spanish, that This Unruly Mess truly stumbles. Unfortunate considering I was intrigued by Macklemore’s act originally, just the missteps become increasingly apparent as the album progresses. I won’t accuse Macklemore of being self-absorbed but his constant self-referrals about his humbleness becomes tiresome after every time “it’s not about me, but here’s more of me.” Nonetheless, as far as mainstream Hip-Hop goes Macklemore is in a spot of his own, that can’t be denied. Pinpointing his stardom is difficult, and unfortunately This Unruly Mess I’ve Made doesn’t make matters more clear.