On their second, 13-track album, “This Unruly Mess I’ve Made,” they’ve moved in a slightly different direction, focusing on tight lyrics and a more celebratory vibe.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, ‘This Unruly Mess I’ve Made’ (self-released, distributed by Warner Bros)
Seattle rapper Macklemore and producer Ryan Lewis showed a masterful aptitude for the concept song on their 2012 smash, “the Heist” — whether that meant tracks about thrift shopping, marriage equality or the dangers of sneaker culture. On their second, 13-track album, “This Unruly Mess I’ve Made,” they’ve moved in a slightly different direction, focusing on tight lyrics and a more celebratory vibe.
It’s a triumphant pop success, despite the negativity sparked by the early release of “White Privilege II” and the Valentine’s Day trifle “Spoons” (a bonus track on the album).
Several of the songs are, simply put, party jams in the vein of their 2012 hit, “Can’t Hold Us.” Songs such as “Brad Pitt’s Cousin” and “Dance Off” bang unrepentantly. They are the kind of tracks you can dance to in a club or listen to with friends in your car and sing along.
Others have a clear message. The opener, “Light Tunnels,” describes Macklemore’s inner conflict with fame, acknowledging that he both craves it and knows that it’s a shady business. “Success determines our value,” he raps with melancholy in his voice. The song “Kevin” angrily points a finger at pharmaceutical companies, which Macklemore blames for the death of a friend.
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The standout track on “Mess,” however, is “Buckshot.” The song features one of the greatest rappers of all time, KRS-One, and arguably the game’s best producer ever, DJ Premier. It’s a ’90s throwback, reflecting nostalgically about sneaking out at 4 a.m. to paint city walls with graffiti.
Along with KRS, “Mess” features a laundry list of guest stars, including Chance The Rapper on the vulnerable “Need to Know”; Ed Sheeran on the fatherly “Growing Up”; and actor Idris Elba on the playful “Dance Off.”
The theme throughout much of “Mess,” though, is remorse. Lyrics touch on guilt and ideas of addiction while Lewis’ production slinks from slow piano progressions to the disco funk on the record’s most popular hit so far, the slightly manic “Downtown.”
The album concludes with “White Privilege II.” Many criticized Macklemore for this track when it came out earlier, saying that as a white man of privilege he didn’t have the standing to speak on issues of race and inequality. Ending the album with it leaves the listener with a sense of unease, as if something is still unfinished — almost like a television show that finishes with a “To be continued … ” before the credits.
But the totality of “Mess,” from its party-time antics to its controversial conclusion, assures there will be another episode for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. The album is that good.