Macy Gray’s debut album, On How Life Is was the most ubiquitous record of the year in 1999. It was the soundtrack to every party you went to, every clothes shop you browsed in, and every pub you drank in. Indeed it seems that, along with a healthy dose of pre-millennium angst, On How Life Is was the item to show off.
That debut album was a slow burner of a record, with beautifully simple songs that wormed their way into the memory, delivered by an other wordly voice, once memorably described as reminiscent of Marge Simpson on 40 Marlboros a day.
Two years on, and it would have been very easy for Macy Gray to produce a carbon copy of On How Life Is and pocket the inevitable cash. However, those who have heard last year’s collaborations with Fatboy Slim, know that Gray is not that predictable. The Id is a brave and challenging album that keeps some of its predecessor’s soulfullness, but introduces new elements. Sadly, not all of those new elements work, but she gives it a good shot.
Firstly though, you do have to worry about Gray’s sanity. She’s already acquired a kooky image, but titles such as Relating To A Psychopath and Gimme All Your Lovin’ Or I Will Kill You will probably mean any potential suitors will be running for the hills. In fact, it’s probably these two tracks that are most reminiscent of her debut, easy funk seeming to flow along, and that remarkable voice intoning some pretty bizarre lyrics (“It’s amazing what a gun to the head can do/my baby loves me now as hard as he can”).
As on the first album, it’s the slower ballads that provide the highlight of The Id. The single Sweet Baby is absolutely gorgeous, with Erykah Badu providing backing vocals, but the standout track is Don’t Come Around. A painful tale of a love gone wrong, this is worthy of comparison to soul legend Etta James.
However, it’s when Gray tries to experiment that the record goes awry. Hey Young World Part 2 has a seriously misjudged chorus of a bunch of kids singing, while London rapper Slick Rick intones platitudes about education. Thankfully Part 1 is nowhere to be seen. Oblivion sounds like it was recorded in the middle of the Munich Beer Festival, with a dreadful horn section and Gray singing, would you believe, “I eat my marimbas, oblivion/I tingle when I sing/Bling bling bling ting ting/Oblivion”. Quite so.
Too many of these songs seem to meander by without ever going anywhere. Tracks such as Harry and My Nutmeg Fantasy aren’t memorable in the slightest, although maybe these are growers like much of the first album was.
Whether this record will become quite the phenomenon that its predecessor was remains to be seen. Many fans may be put off by the lack of an I Try, and anyone who can’t take that voice certainly won’t be converted here. It’s a enjoyable record in parts, but the strain of producing a follow up shows . Maybe next time, with the pressure off, Macy Gray can produce something truly remarkable.