OK, so Macy Gray sounds like she hasn’t quite reached puberty. Her unisex squeaks are kinda cute, like your little cousin Larry when he lost his first tooth and whistle-talked for a week-and-a-half. But don’t be thrown by Macy’s rawness: her old soul shines through the hearty rasp, and her sultry lyrics balance the innocence of her vocal timbre.
The substance of her critically acclaimed debut album, “On How Life Is,” was slightly mild, but Macy makes it unnecessarily clear that her new release, “The ID,” is all about love (“Sweet Baby”), sweet lovemaking (“Sexual Revolution”), the ensuing heartbreak (“Don’t Come Around Here”) and the even sweeter make-up lovemaking (“My Nutmeg Phantasy”).
Like fellow freaky innovator, the divine Missy Elliot, Gray has opened up the floodgates of her subconscious on her sophomore release. Maybe she’s older and wiser, had a turbulent love life since her last visit to the studio or just feels more comfortable with her producer. Whatever the reason, Macy confidently explores her deepest and darkest against her signature backdrop collage of funk, soul, rhythm and blues and hip-hop.
Although she claims to be loony in the first track, “Relating to a Psychopath,” she draws you in with her honesty and normality. Her musical chimney sweeping may seem intimidating, but she doesn’t uncover anything that the rest of us haven’t also repressed. This self-inflicted psychotherapy inspires a healthy release of the libidinous component of the listener’s own id (she concentrates on Eros rather than Thanatos).
“Sexual Revolution” walks the listener through this liberation from inhibitions, and Macy crams a year’s worth of therapy into this epic dance frenzy. Over a subdued, bluesy piano sway, she begins “your mama told you to be discreet and keep your freak to yourself.” But, lo and behold, she rebels against ma and urges you to “share your freak with the rest of us ‘cuz it’s a beautiful thang.” This (a)rouses the musicians into a disco craze, which builds to, ahem, the climax as Macy screams the song title.
Macy may hearken back to the actual sexual revolution of the disco era, but she doesn’t tote along the irresponsibility that killed the ’70s. “Sexual Revolution” is followed by “Hey Young World II,” a call for and celebration of the freedom of opportunity. She politely tells her younger, impressionable listeners that if they stay out of trouble, they can, like Clapton, change the world.
While Gray’s own id is the focal point of the disk, she doesn’t completely overshadow her funktacular band and heavy-weight guest list, including avant-garde rapper extraordinaire Mos Def, soul anti-diva Erykah Badu and old-school-survivor Slick Rick.
The band weaves rich fabrics of funky disco, soulful motown and jazzy gospel with uncomplicated lines, as the guests fill in the gaps with doo-wop accents and a cappella breakdowns. The overall orchestral layering and theatric style bear the marks of Macy’s classical piano background.
In a market flooded with almost virtuosic but generic divas that spoon-feed the contrived wisdom of teen-pop producers, Macy’s funny voice and humanity are oddly soothing and dangerously intoxicating. She unleashes her id without embarrassment. Take it or leave it, she doesn’t care. But I would strongly suggest you take it.