Bendo, LLC · September 22, 2017
Back? Yes. Like he never left? No. Macklemore plays catch-up with his latest solo album, but he still manages to stay endearing from start to finish.
Listen to GEMINI here:
Before continuing, I would like to address what many critics have pointed out, which is Macklemore’s silence on politics on this album. Many would say that his ability to ignore the country’s political climate is in itself a display of white privilege. I won’t say that those people are wrong. However, I will say that it is important to take the album for what it is, not for what it isn’t.
The album starts with a bang and a boom, as the first two tracks blew me away. ‘Ain’t Gonna Die Tonight’ reunites Mack with Eric Nally, the hair metal vocalist from his last big hit ‘Downtown.’ Mack claims, “Wake up bitch, I ain’t dead yet! / And if I was in heaven I would be the best dressed,” harkening back to the days of popping tags. The second track, ‘Glorious,’ is one of my favorite singles of the year. The infectious hook on the track is sung by co-writer Skylar Grey, who I swear only writes comeback singles for rappers after they become irrelevant. Macklemore’s verses on this track are killer, and I agree with his grandma if she said “Woo, that boy got bars.” These tracks, however, set a standard that is not met for the remainder of this exhaustive 16 track LP.
Many tracks on this album are sound-alikes of rap songs we have heard in the past year; namely ‘Marmalade’ ripping off ‘Broccoli’ and ‘iSpy,’ ‘Willy Wonka’ trying to be ‘Loyalty,’ ‘Church’ clumsily imitating anything from Coloring Book, ‘How to Play the Flute’ taking a pretty sad jab at ‘Mask Off’ and ‘Good Old Days’ ripping off… ‘Glorious?’ Damn it, Macklemore, you can’t rip off your own music. That’s Drake’s thing. However, despite these shortcomings, there are a few highlights on the album past the first two tracks. ‘Firebreather’ teams Mack up with Reignwolf, a Seattle-based blues trio, for an enjoyable rock track on which Mack spits some of his best lines. ‘Corner Store’ and ‘Intentions’ lean on nostalgia and Macklemore’s uncanny ability to stay composed even when talking about something goofy. It pains me to call the rest of the tracks on this album filler, but I have to call a spade a spade, and they unfortunately do not bring anything interesting, engaging or genuinely entertaining to the listener. The album’s final track, ‘Excavate,’ is a love letter to his daughter and the new life she brings to his world despite his own doubts on his self-worth. It’s touching, vulnerable, and I think a solid end to a mediocre album.
More than anything else, this album shows how much Macklemore needs Ryan Lewis. The beats on this album, spare a few aforementioned tracks, are just not as strong without Lewis in the studio. They lean very heavily on light piano, which after 16 tracks gets a bit exhausting and sounds too safe compared to the bold sounds we used to hear from the hip-hop duo. There are a few moments where the album attempts to make songs connect, with both lyrical content and smooth production, but most of the time it ends up sounding a bit clumsy. The album is still worth a listen through, especially if you are a fan of Macklemore. While nothing spectacular, it brings Mack back to relevance in Hip-Hop and certainly is a listenable and enjoyable rap album. A previous contributor predicted that the album would be “white rice without soy sauce.” I would say the album is closer to a salad with dried cranberries. You pick through and eat the enjoyable parts, but after that, you have to chew through a whole lot of lettuce.