‘This Unruly Mess I’ve Made’ By Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Album Review: An Abbreviated Look At Social Issues
With This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis attempt somewhat clumsily to start conversations about serious societal issues. They bring to our attention matters that we might largely prefer to ignore such as our preoccupation with celebrity cult and sensationalism, drug abuse, hypocrisy. The somber and self-conscious album is not meant for mass consumption and entertainment. It aims rather to inspire people to take responsibility for the issues it outlines, but it remains doubtful to what extent it achieves what it sets out to do.
‘This Unruly Mess I’ve Made’ by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Album Review
Opener “Light Tunnels,” capped at close to seven minutes, sets the trend for lengthy tracks that this album explores. The track’s confessional tone immediately places us in the apologetic atmosphere that Macklemore assumes on most songs on This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, especially when it comes to social issues. The rapper narrates the attendance of a music awards show, denouncing the spectators’ desire for spectacle and sensationalism. “Light Tunnels” is both condemning society’s hunger for the phoniness of celebrity cults, which are fed by that very demand, and at the same time self-deprecating for the artist’s participation in the power structures that perpetuate the social preoccupation with fame he decries. “Downtown” follows in a similar vein to Macklemore’s hit “Thrift Shop.” It touches on some of the same absurdist themes and catchy melody. This is the most laid-back song on the album, with witty and amusing lyrics that often don’t make sense.
After a couple of chaotic songs, the album finally finds a strong footing in the Ed Sheeran collaboration “Growing Up.” The track is an emotional letter from a father to his child, giving advice on everything there is to learn in life. The melody is simple and charming and cheekily concluding that he himself is still growing up.
On “Kevin,” one of the most socially aware songs on This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, Macklemore calls attention to the prescription drug crisis. The song starts out with a funky beat but eventually escalates with collaborator Leon Bridges lamenting that “we’re overprescribed” over vocal harmonies and simple strings. Bridges’ ironically mellow hook provides the depth that would help this track to resonate with a lot of people similarly to the LGBT anthem “Same Love” from Macklemore’s debut album The Heist. Bridges sentimentally sings in the outro, “Doctor, your medicine and your methods can’t cure my disease without killing me. You’re killing me, you’re killing me.”
Perhaps even more relevant to today’s culture and politics, with the closing track “White Privilege II,” featuring Jamila Woods, Macklemore launches into a lengthy, nearly 9-minute rhapsody-monologue about his own position in larger cultural conversations. He criticizes the hypocrisy of celebrity culture that he is a part of, particularly white celebrities voicing their support for movements like “Black Lives Matter,” in the wider background of racial tensions. “What’s the intention?” he asks repeatedly and lunges into a self-reflection about political correctness and social responsibility. The track laments the social condition that permits the atrocities and inequalities that are a continuous part of our daily lives. Melodically, however, the track is diverse and unboring, exhibiting an almost Broadway-worthy theatricality and grandeur (think Hamilton). With its samples and lyrics, “White Privilege II” is all over the place, cramming too much to process even in 9 minutes, but regardless Macklemore’s unadulterated attitude is bound to produce the conversations that he aims to inspire.
This Unruly Mess I’ve Made attempts to tackle some serious issues, but its broad scope is perhaps its greatest enemy. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are trying to do too much in both the music and the lyrics of only 13 songs, which makes the record seem chaotic and unfocused. Regardless, the rapper is on the right track by channeling his creativity and influence to convey critical socially conscious messages.
You can get the album here!