Macy Gray, Macy Gray On How Life Is

Sean Fennessey

By Sean Fennessey

on 06.30.09 in Reviews

Macy Gray On How Life Is

Macy Gray
An irresistible batch of sproinging nu-Stax anthems

It's hard to remember Macy Gray as she was in 1999. But when the cigarettes 'n 'kerosene-voiced singer landed smack-dab at the top of the pop charts with the irresistible "I Try," she was considered retiring and charming. Oh, how the shock of fame can turn the quiet into the calculating. Gray's breakout moment wasn't just her most innocent, it was also her best. Most of On How Life Is sounds nothing like "I Try," a surgically-engineered chart demon. "Sex-O-Matic Venus Freak" and "I Can't Wait to Meetchu" are all about swing, sproinging around like nu-Stax anthems (composer extraordinaire Jon Brion plays guitar on both tracks) and "I've Committed Murder" is a reggae jaunt mixed with a dark funk groove that samples Eddie Harris 'pristine "Live Right Now." Gray is most comfortable detailing the seedy and debauched — "Caligula" peaks with the immortal "Never lovin 'but we're always f**kin'" — but it's the vulnerable "Why Didn't You Call Me" that reconciles the stumbling pop star of "I Try" with the freakish antics elsewhere. Over a full-bodied slab of wah-wah soul, she stands tall, reprimanding a lover while splaying her guts on the table. Gray splayed more with less taste in the ensuing years, but her debut remains an unimpeachable slice of nu-soul.