Arguably typical of what you'd expect from a Macklemore & Ryan Lewis album, however an interesting listen all the same.
American alt hip-hop duo Macklemore (real name, Ben Haggerty) and Ryan Lewis are back with their second studio album since 2012. Their debut album, The Heist, included their first Billboard number one single ‘Thrift Shop’ and US Number one single ‘Can’t Hold Us’. The album shed light on a few serious issues including Macklemore’s previous struggles with addiction – as outlined in ‘Neon Cathedral’ as well as their thoughts on gay marriage, which they expressed through ‘Same Love’. After a four year break from the industry and the birth of Macklemore’s daughter, the pair have released their new album entitled This Unruly Mess I’ve Made.
The first track, ‘Light Tunnels‘ features singer/songwriter Mike Slap and provides a somewhat theatrical backdrop to the beginning of the album. It features some intense vocals from the onset before breaking into the bellowing sounds of Macklemore’s rapping. The track adopts a fairly satirical tone, as Macklemore questions the integrity of the entertainment industry through lyrics such as “Watch celebrities take selfies with celebrities / It feels so make believe”. Macklemore appears to disengage himself and Lewis from the industry’s facade as he assumes the role of an outsider, almost naive as he questions “Do I talk first? Is it Ryan? Is it me?” The track attempts to set the tone for the remainder of the album, as the last line reads “Time to explain this unruly mess I’ve made.”
The next track and second single from the album is entitled ‘Downtown’ and features an extensive guest list of musical talent including the likes of singer-songwriter Eric Nally (who provides the vocals), hip-hop musician Melle Mel, and rappers Kool Moe Dee and Grandmaster Caz. It’s theatrical, it’s eccentric and in all honesty it’s not entirely far off from a cross between Macklemore’s initial debut ‘Thrift Shop’ and the more recent Bruno Mars offering ‘Uptown Funk’.
‘Growing Up’ is one of the more relaxed numbers of the album’s track listing, as it was written following the birth of Macklemore’s daughter, Sloane. It features the impressive vocals of Ed Sheeran and adopts a completely different sound to the majority of the album, reading more like an open letter paired with a soulful symphony. Similarly, ‘Kevin’ is a more gospel-like track, as it features Texas native Leon Bridges and encapsulates a more sombre atmosphere as it refers to wishes of the American Dream and details of the dangers of drug addiction – addiction being something that Haggerty is no stranger to. It creates an undeniable break in the previous moods showcased in the album and it is in this song that listeners are exposed to some seriously raw emotions and passionate lyrics. Similar tracks on the album include ‘St Ides’ and ‘The Train’ featuring Carla Morrison.
The remainder of the album appears to almost mesh into one, as they all follow a similar routine – eccentric musical openings that are closely followed by a vocal cameo before breaking into the typical Macklemore rap, complete with some ever-so-slightly risque references. ‘Dance Off’ features Idris Elba (a now popular occurrence in the musical industry?) and is reminiscent of Macklemore’s earlier flair, such as ‘As We Danced’ from his 2009 EP, The Unplanned Mixtape or ‘Gold’ from his previous album.
The exceptions to the album include ‘Need To Know’ which Chance the Rapper appears on, and the perhaps more controversial ‘White Privilege II’ – the follow up from Haggerty’s 2005 mixtape ‘The Language Of My Mind’. ‘White Privilege II’ essentially questions the term and its relevance as he states “It seems like we’re more concerned with being called racist / Than we actually are with racism” and those who follow and agree blindly as he asks “Are you marching for freedom, or when it’s convenient?”. This track is by no means an entirely accurate representation of the controversy surrounding the term, however through the lyrics it appears that Macklemore actually makes sense, and his satirical comments aren’t entirely without merit. It seems to be an intriguing way to end the album, and force its listeners to question their usage of the term and focus on the bigger issues.
As a whole, the album is fairly similar to Macklemore’s prescriptive nature and does little to reinvent his sound. However, it manages to focus on a whole host of new issues, with a considerable list of collaborators whilst still providing a few upbeat, if not a little mindless, anthems. Not terrible.
This Unruly Mess I’ve Made is out now via Macklemore, LLC.