Macklemore & Ryan Lewis :: ‘This Unruly Mess I’ve Made’
There are plenty of reasons — fair or not — to dislike Macklemore. His latest album with Ryan Lewis, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, makes one painfully clear: Macklemore is a well-intentioned but insufferable goody-two-shoes.
On their previous album, The Heist, this “make the world a better place” instinct could be seen on gay rights anthem “Same Love” and maybe even the save-money tune “Thrift Shop.” This time, the duo pushes back against police brutality on “White Privilege II,” a nearly nine-minute production that weaves commentary on the Black Lives Matter movement with Macklemore’s personal uncertainties about his place as a white man. The song should be applauded for its audacity — but listen to This Unruly Mess I’ve Made in its entirety, and “White Privilege II” loses its potency because Macklemore comes off like a robot with two settings: politically correct and self-deprecating.
There’s Macklemore delivering carefully enunciated bars on an unfair music industry (“Light Tunnels”); Macklemore on his naughty snacking (“Let’s Eat”); and Macklemore ‘fessing up to materialism (“Need to Know,” featuring Chance the Rapper). The whole thing feels like an after-school special.
There are exceptions — including the soulful and stirring “Kevin,” in which Macklemore opens up about the overdose of someone close to him. It’s a message with gravity that needs to be heard. But on this album, the vibrations are drowned out by one good message too many. (Melanie J. Sims)
The 1975 :: ‘I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It’
British pop-rockers The 1975 get downright funky on their sophomore album, with a title so long it will barely fit anywhere. I Like It…” sparkles with an experimental punch, and is held together by frontman Matthew Healy’s vocals and a refined mixing that nicely blends traditional and modern sounds.
In lesser hands, The 1975’s work might sound too referential to a late ‘80s/early ‘90s vibe. But the band avoids any traps. Highlights include “She’s American,” which offers up rhythmic guitar work that gives way to some nicely delivered futuristic synths. And Healy carries the day on soulful slow jam “If I Believe You,” serious turn-down-the-lights-and-stoke-the-fire music. The 1975 certainly know their way around a sexy love song. (Ron Harris)
Loretta Lynn :: ‘Full Circle’
Loretta Lynn has titled her first album in a dozen years Full Circle partly because she opens the 14-song collection with “Whispering Sea,” the first song she ever wrote, back in the late 1950s. But Full Circle is also the continuation of a long line of vibrant, distinctive albums based on Lynn’s personal style of writing.
Produced by daughter Patsy Lynn Russell and John Carter Cash (son of Johnny and June Carter Cash), the album relies on a melodic bed of acoustic instruments with gentle touches of steel guitar, drums and piano. At 83, Lynn sounds amazingly good. Not only does she retain nearly all of her range and strength, but her ability to breathe feeling into her words remains one of her greatest gifts.
She offers a few originals, including “Everything It Takes,” co-written with singer-songwriter Todd Snider with harmonies by Elvis Costello. There’s also a duet with Willie Nelson on “Lay Me Down,” one of many gospel numbers. But the best songs are among the most unexpected, such as her poignant take on T. Graham Brown’s prayerful “Wine Into Water” and a rousing version of the folk classic “Black Jack David.” (Michael McCall)