This Macklemore article was written by Ben Malkin, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Stephen Butchard.
One compliment you can give Macklemore is that his songs are actually about something, as silly as some of them might be. Great songs don’t require far-out meaning, but finding songs that have a unique subject matter in the charts is reminiscent of everyone’s favourite metaphor about needles and haystacks.
‘This Unruly Mess I’ve Made’ sees Macklemore & Ryan Lewis follow-up their 2012 multi-platinum breakthrough, ‘The Heist’. The duo are famed for their approachable blend of pop and hip-hop, a hybrid that remains intact on their latest release.
Opener ‘Light Tunnels’ documents Macklemore’s struggles with fame, particularly his sudden breakthrough. It’s one big ramble, but it’s a coherent, personal ramble with a lot of intimate details about discomfort at award shows. ‘Let’s Eat’ is a cute track about dieting, or at least intending on dieting, with Macklemore’s usual corny flavour. ‘Growing Up’ is a sweet ode to Macklemore’s child, and ‘Downtown’ is about mopeds and girls; the latter combination somehow produces the best song on the album. In a way, ‘Downtown’ is ‘Thrift Shop’ part two, and it’s definitely worthy of being so, and speaking of, Eric Nally’s vocals on the hook are outstanding.
In terms of subject matter, ‘White Privilege II’ is the heavyweight of the album, as you would expect from the title. The lyrical content is strong, mainly because it involves Macklemore’s struggles and personal feelings towards racism; this includes other people’s reactions to him partaking in the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, and whether his involvement is necessary or legitimate. The topic is explored in a complex, multifaceted fashion, and while the song isn’t spectacular, its admirably open and honest.
The album is full of one-liners; some enjoyable, some nauseating. ‘Brad Pitt’s Cousin’ has a few fun little jabs at Macklemore’s own goofiness, including a funny line about how every white dude in America goes to the barbershop and gets the Macklemore haircut. Still, the chorus is stupidly cheesy, as is the section where he seems to go full-Kanye and screams “AUSTRALIA, THEY HEARD OF ME, GERMANY, THEY HEARD OF ME!”. ‘Need to Know’ is another song with a few lines that aren’t as special as intended, but that’s obscured by the strange Drake-influence that even Chance the Rapper’s guest appearance couldn’t fix.
‘Dance Off’ is a collaboration with Idris Elba and Anderson Paak. Don’t worry, you aren’t dreaming. It’s a pity that this collaboration has led to what is easily the worst, most sickeningly cheesy song on the album. It’s a party song, but a very embarrassing one.
There is a second name on the record, that name being producer Ryan Lewis. Nothing about the production is sloppy; there may be a few pop clichés, like some of the drum fills in the otherwise funky ‘Downtown’, but overall, the beats are tight. The way the bass appears in ‘Bolo Tie’ is a nice touch, and the real qualities in production mainly do lie in that small attention to detail.
As mentioned, ‘White Privilege II’ is a fulfilling listen, but by that point, it’s hard not to be tired after enduring most of what comes before it. ‘This Unruly Mess I’ve Made’ isn’t an unruly mess by any means, but despite a few likeable tracks and a star-studded set of features, the album feels overwhelmingly silly. There is no consistency in quality, but there is consistency in goofiness; luckily, said goofiness is sometimes enjoyable. But only sometimes.
‘This Unruly Mess I’ve Made’ is out now via Macklemore LLC.