I'm the lamest craze: Macy Gray is nothing but a new soul pretender.
Rock-and-soul diva Macy Gray is getting gold-rush treatment from her record company. Before “On How Life Is” was even in stores, she’d already appeared on “Late Night With David Letterman,” had a trendy video out and been featured in the New Yorker. And last week, she played live for the celebrity cast of invitees at Tina Brown’s Talk magazine party at the Statue of Liberty. Too bad she’s just another new soul pretender.
Gray is supposedly kin to other allegedly maverick black artists like Erykah Badu and Eagle Eye Cherry, but ultimately she, like the others, is really just a nappy haircut with a savvy stylist and an old-school vinyl collection that would make Jamiroquai’s Jason Kay salivate.
Gray’s debut is really about the continued struggle of (largely) post-desegregation black musicians following a double-conscious muse in pursuit of critical and commercial regard. The pop scene is currently experiencing a flood of artists pursuing similar themes, some compelling (Cree Summer, Chocolate Genius), others less so (Cherry, Badu). But even with Living Colour’s arena-rock precedent, the notion of blacks pursuing rock ‘n’ roll careers or delving into white genres in the ’90s remains more or less verboten. That puts Macy Gray and her fellow alt-soul pioneers in a commercial world where even problematic entities like Lenny Kravitz look like grand old daddies.
As with many contemporary (alternative) cultural mulatto artists, in this release Gray has the tendency to skimp on the rock-and-soul structures in favor of computerized pap that nods mostly to electronica. The guitars of Red Hot Chili Pepper alum Arik Marshall and P-Funkster Blackbird McKnight — featured on half the record — are barely discernable. So far, Gray is smug about the unclassifiable nature of her music, but if it ain’t hambone, what is it?
“On How Life Is” kicks off with a spirited, funky tribute to post-”Stand!”-era Sly Stone. The sound conveys the appropriate soupgon of murky funk: muddy bass, percussive guitar, elastic drums and stacked gospel-inflected harmonies; the only thing missing is the horns. But in many ways, the disc devolves from that point. “Do Something,” Gray’s first single, is ultimately lifeless, full of rote trip-hop flourishes, a canned stew of samples, drum programs and noodly synth washes. And wow track “I’ve Committed Murder” is a bit too infatuated with itself: Ageist/sexist slurs (“The owner is this mean ole bitch”), dark cha-cha-cha stylings and overused spooky chamberlain effects undermine the showily provocative title and lyrics. Of the 10 songs, “The Letter” is the most compelling of the bunch, illuminating a hip-hop hillbilly path for Gray to pursue in future and proposing a radical shift that could liberate other artists of the African-Atlantic avant-garde.
The problem is that Gray’s songs don’t all add up to the whole new thang that she thinks she’s delivering. “I Try” is a lost track from Bowie’s “Hunky Dory” and “I Can’t Wait to Meetchu” evokes vintage Brand New Heavies. For those waiting to exhale on the new soul/black rock pilgrimage, the air around Macy Gray and her overrated, overhyped platter is woefully thin.
Kandia Crazy Horse is a music writer in Atlanta. More Kandia Crazy Horse.
More Related Stories
- Stop what you're doing and go watch "Borgen"
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
- New York chef serves up eight-course meal around "Arrested Development" jokes
- HLN: Jodi Arias "pleading for her life" got us a ratings win!
- Michael Ian Black on Maron feud: He "considered me a poseur"
- Chekhov's story mirrors Russia's own
- Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina denied parole
- Joe Francis apologizes for calling jury "retarded"
- Mary Karr: David Foster Wallace and I kept each other alive
- Morgan Freeman sleeps during televised interview
- J.J. Abrams reveals deleted shower scene with Benedict Cumberbatch
- Is the anti-gay backlash on?
- Paul McCartney backs Pussy Riot
- Cannes: Ryan Gosling's new movie draws the boo-birds
- Radio host tweets rape joke, blames journalists for reporting on it
- Juror responds to Joe Francis' insults with thoughtful email
- New track from the Lonely Island features Solange Knowles, semicolons
- Amazon introduces fan fiction publishing platform
- Naomi Watts, "Argo," "Wonderstone" among bizarre Teen Choice Awards nominees
- Imprisoned Pussy Riot member declares hunger strike
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11