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Macy Gray

The Trouble with Being Myself

Release Date: 07.15.03
Record label: Sony
Genre(s): Rap, Hip-Hop, R&B, etc.


Singin' About Some "Fine Chocolate Ass"
by: matt cibula

Okay, okay, Macy Gray, you love her or you hate her, you think she's a misunderstood genius or you think she's a helium-voiced clown. Well, to be honest, I have always kind of liked her whole R&B-stoner vibe, and I've liked her songs on the radio, but I haven't really spent any real time digging her albums or thinking much about her.

Until now. Because this is a big-hearted work of funk genius for real, and I don't think any of us saw it coming. The songs come straight from Macy's strange little brain to us, and her singing is more immediate than it's ever seemed before. She's laying her life on the line here, and she makes confession and introspection sexy like Erykah Badu used to. In "Every Now and Then" she turns her own suicidal ideations into the best anarchic Latin-flavored funk jam of the year: "It's the mood I'm in / It's how hard it's been / The ultimate sin / Don't wanna commit" is pretty bleak without the bubbling percussion and the sly horns, but when they all start rocking together it sounds like the most uplifting thing ever, especially when the payoff comes: "When you're getting down / You got to get UP!"

But this isn't some floaty "I Love Myself" album; it's full of different moods and different intentions. For every "Things That Made Me Change," where she examines loneliness and depression to a snaky Rufus groove, there's a "Happiness," where she's all amped up on God and/or drugs to a dubby spooky beat full of cellos and children's voices. She includes two different songs to an unnamed guy who's with the wrong woman, but they're very different; "She Ain't Right For You" is a full-on glam-rock Tina Turner torch ballad, but "She Don't Write Songs For You" flips things by being a lot funnier and self-deprecating and self-aggrandizing at once, saying that the angels are her friends and rhyming "Macy Gray" with "crazy crazy" and slipping in quotes from six different songs in the bridge and speculating about her rival's cooking and fellatio skills…damn, this is a fun beautiful song.

And let's just talk a little about the really freaky stuff. "Come Together" has the line of the year: "Do-me-wrong songs make money all the time / But your fine chocolate ass brings nothing negative to mind." Genius. This song is topped in horniness by "Screamin'," which speculates that loud sex is the only key to making the world's troubles manageable. She wants to be "Jesus For a Day," but she also admits that "My Favorite Childhood Memories" are when she murdered her parents' lovers so they would remain a happily married couple. That's just sick and wrong, and I love it.

Collaborators are key here, but not the ones you'd think. The biggest "names" here are Beck and Pharoahe Monch, who are lumped together on the least interesting track, "It Ain't the Money." This song sounds like a Beck song with Monch on it, a hipster-hop hootenanny that is just as tiresome as you might think it is: "Betcha giving head to a movie star / Betcha gotta llama living in your car"—it's just Midnite Vultures all over again, innit? Sure, it's fun and all, but it has nothing to do with the rest of the record, which is all Macy, all the time.

No, the best parts of this record are helmed by a great band featuring Beck's bass player Justin Meldal-Johnsen, drummer Victor Indrizzo, and keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna. The way this group builds up the psychedelic craziness at the end of "Come Together" is so intense that Gray herself can't believe it, and yells out "Awwwwwwww shit!" Dallas Austin produces a little, actor Lukas Haas plays guitar and sings backup on "Speechless"…but there's no question who's in charge here. It's Macy Gray, and she's crazy and weird and all, but she's also incredibly normal, and very amazingly talented, and she's got more soul than anybody on earth right now. And she's going to be with us for a long time, children. And this is the best news we've had in a long time. 31-Jul-2003 2:00 PM