Review Summary: There's an unruly mess that needs to be cleaned and polished up.
Amidst the smoke screen Seattle-centered duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have been under for the past several months, they come into their release of their long-awaited sophomore album, the fitting "This Unruly Mess I've Made", with a sense of uncertainty and controversy. Being the musical face of Seattle, the successes the duo acquired after their critically-acclaimed "The Heist", the millions of copies sold from their numerous Top-10 singles off the album, but only to criticize themselves and that success with it, delivering a vintage, yet mainstream boomer with "Downtown" and then frying it all in the fryer with an alarming, yet insightful eye-opener with "White Privilege II". The hypocrisy that flayed upon their skin after this is the foundation of what has made the approach to their sophomore album a bit surprising, to say the least.
The association with Macklemore, in the sense of the music community, is that he is indeed a mainstream rapper and has even placed trends associated with his singles, from mopeds to thrift shops. It is what makes the sequel to a 2005 solo song from years past in the gritty, smoky "White Privilege II", a black-and-white scope of 21st century America racially/culturally using the lenses of Macklemore, along with some local Seattle musicians - a contradiction of himself and the musical landscape he has stood upon until now. A mere attempt at literally trying to be politically correct. Infused with a blaring, crying horn, to the marching of a glamorous, yet emotive piano - Macklemore chose to make a case for himself, and frankly to make for everyone else too; into why the American people "show up for black culture, but not show for black lives", the pro-Black Lives Matter support, along with name-shaming artists, infamously mentioning Iggy Azalea as the one who appropriates it herself. The production is multi-dimensional and emotionally vocative by verse, distinctive for such a song, morphing from an angry, protesting vibe to both relaxing, playful and eventually somber tone. The lyricism contained in this inconsistently produced track is coldly blunt and insightful, going as far as easily as one of the most lyrically-enticing tracks of the year. The problem that came with delivering such? The bungled, fragmented and inconsistent flow that came along with it - it is absolutely god-darn awful. It's a graceful attempt to simply be "poetic" rather than actually rapping, but it doesn't facilitate.
When you expect Macklemore to follow and take heed of everything he said with "White Privilege II" to further entice and enrich in the content of this album, it is a hit-or-miss scenario. You can follow it up with an ominous, nostalgic-featured opening into the life of an aspiring hip-hop artist with the dirty "Buckshot", only to then subject himself with that "mainstream" material that got him criticized after he released his controversial single with the vintage, Seattle-tribute "Downtown"? The inconsistency laced in this album is an unruly mess that is yet to been cleaned up, but features some neat spots on the floor. The old-school, gauging feel in "Buckshot" was further enhanced with the raw power of KRS-One's vocals and DJ Premier's legendary scratches, but it masked another bungled, yet insightful engagement from Macklemore himself. The production from Ryan Lewis is vibrant and rustic throughout the album, fitting enough since the duo recorded this in a cabin in the woods. But sacrificing flow for excellent lyrical content is an otherwise critical move to make, but in this case it only can go so far. The emotional resilience of growing through life's struggles from the use of drugs and death in the grimy, Motown-esque "Kevin" showcases it done right, being the best track off the record with its perfection of the balance between the "poet and rapper gap" that he tried to emulate prior, while also featuring an emotive, tear-jerking hook from Leon Bridges. But then afterwards, only to sacrifice the opposite for mainstream appeal and much better flow with "Downtown"? It doesn't make any sense, and there is no natural balance to it either.
The lack of identity that is portrayed in "This Unruly Mess I've Made" is what is the catalyst to why Macklemore's statements and stance on the appropriation of black culture and its dominance on music, while true and well-documented, also happens to be hypocritical and un-validated for himself. He continues to be lyrically one of the best of his craft, witting his way all-around the album in full force - it is just mind-boggling to see how he can say the things he has said now, when in the past it's been contradicted. Meaning to be both nostalgic-filled and an emotional revolution of sorts unlike his 2012 release, it did flash in spots like with the unified, somber "Kevin", but the lack of musical identity also happens to water down the content as well with that all in mind. Going and making content to ridicule and "blast" the mainstream, only to avert on and off back to that does not really help Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' case on being rebellious as they sought-fully looked to pursue. Regardless, the mainstream attention will prevail and overtake as such, the truth is Macklemore cannot walk away from that or proclaim himself as anything but based on the past and of recent. Knowing the Grammys next year, who would be surprised if this album ends up winning for their dubious attempt at an rebellious stance towards all of the above?