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Macy Gray - Big

Macy Gray, Big

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

WHEN Macy Gray first appeared on the scene with her smoky vocals and genuine sense of style people were predicting that greatness loomed large on the horizon. Yet she’s failed to live up to expectation given that she’s been more content to divide her time between movies (such as Training Day) and making music.

Big is her first album in four years and it comes with a certain amount of expectation. But it boasts strong production credentials (with Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas) serving as producer and guests including Natalie Cole, Fergie and Romika.

The result is a hit-and-miss affair; an album of some thrilling highs that hint at the greatness that’s definitely still within grasp, and moments of mundane, by-the-numbers recordings that make you wonder why they were recorded in the first place.

What’s evident throughout are the production values of Will.i.am. Several tracks register strongly from the moment you hear them. Others contain some fine samples. One even contains a really cute sense of pitch black humour.

So let’s concentrate on the good first. Strange Behaviour is a dark tale of a husband and wife who love each other, but who are willing to wave guns at each other in order to reap the rewards of a big insurance policy. It ends in murder but the background music, with trumpets and bright beats, owes more to a Disney movie. It’s a nice juxtaposition that marks the album at its most inventive.

Just prior to it is a track that’s steeped in Black Eyed Peas values. One For Me kicks off with a lovely sample of Dream (by J Mercer) before unfolding into a chirpy collection of strings, sensual vocals, catchy melodies and an utterly spring/summer vibe. It’s evidence of what Will.i.am does best and it’s a definite chart hit in waiting.

Ghetto Love is an example of Macy Gray at her best. It’s a funky collection of husky vocals, soulful melodies and a clever sample of It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World. It’s an example of the album at its most confident and exciting.

Likewise Get Out another of the album’s hipper efforts that features vocals and guitar support from Justin Timberlake. It’s all about the funk and is a definite party-pleaser, especially thanks to its gutsy chorus where Macy purports “get out, get out, Macy don’t love you no more”.

And UK bonus tracks AEIOU and Breakdown, featuring Romika, bring things to a satisfying close – the latter, in particular, featuring a nice vocal trade-off between the contrasting styles of Macy and Romika.

But on the downside, tracks like Glad You’re Here, featuring Fergie, and What I Gotta Do are hopelessly generic offerings that meander along without ever coming close to thrilling. Even another forthcoming single Shoo Be Doo lacks any real spark. Gray’s vocals retain that distinctive quality but their framed by some fairly ordinary instrumentation and background soul vocals that have featured on countless other tracks. It’s smooth stuff but it really doesn’t capture the imagination like the album’s best moments.

Worse still is Will.i.am’s guest spot, Treat Me Like Your Money, a hopelessly tacky offering that drops some Prince-style party beats before her backing vocalists sing You Spin Me Right Round (Like A Record) and Will.i.am drops It’s Like That to cringe-inducing effect. Both moments ruin the flow of what could otherwise have been a fun track and almost prompt the listener to turn and face the stereo asking “what the f**k?” in stunned disbelief.

The overall impression is that Macy, once again, stops short of having delivered a great album. Big boasts some fine moments but it doesn’t feel like a complete package.

Download picks: Strange Behaviour, One For Me, Ghetto Love, Get Out, Breakdown

Track listing:

  1. Finally Made Me Happy
  2. Shoo Be Doo
  3. What I Gotta Do
  4. Okay
  5. Glad You’re Here
  6. Ghetto Love
  7. One For Me
  8. Strange Behaviour
  9. Slowly
  10. Get Out
  11. Treat Me Like Your Money
  12. Everybody
  13. AEIOU
  14. Breakdown