From the men that took us to the thrift shop and made us reconsider our positions on several social issues, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have released the album that was previewed by the hit song Downtown that broke out onto the airwaves late last year.
“This Unruly Mess I’ve Made” is the sophomore effort of the duo, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. The 13 track album was released just over a month ago and premiered at fourth on the Billboard Top 200 Albums list. Commercially the album flopped, and the album as since tumbled all the way down to 80th on the list in only four weeks.
To put that into perspective, Fall Out Boy’s most recent album American Beauty/American Pyscho is currently 78th after 62 weeks on the chart.
The reason for the slide down the charts is simple. The album was not made to be commercially successful. Of course there was a desire to find monetary success in the album (it would not have been supported otherwise), but the topicality and message of the music was the main goal and the polarizing accuracy that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis achieved is both the saving grace and the achilles heel of the album.
Downtown, the most recognizable track on the album, was the most commercially viable song. The catchy jazz-influenced tune was similar to their prior hits such as “Thrift Shop”, “Can’t Hold Us”, or “White Walls”.
Nearly all of the rest of the songs on the album attempt to tackle some social problem. “Light Tunnels” is about how America is full of insecurities. “Kevin” is about how America is overprescribed. “Let’s Eat” is about America’s weight issues. It continues on and on this way for the majority of the album. This combined with the slower, melodic pacing of the tracks led to very little air time.
The one song that has been more successful than the rest is “White Privilege II” mainly due to its timing. The track focuses on the issues of racism in America. The track features lyrics such as, “Thinking if they can’t, how can I breathe?” and “We take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives?” along with other symbols of anti-racism movements that have taken America by storm over the past year. The track is littered with soundbites of protesters chanting “black lives matter” and “hands up, don’t shoot.”
Macklemore is even critical of his own work during the track. During the song he speaks against himself, questioning if he’s actually done enough to support the cause. He accuses himself of stealing black culture in order to achieve his success.
The stance that he takes is incredibly risky for an artist as he is facing these very polarizing topics head on. Such songs could destroy his career. Why take that risk when he could’ve been even more successful by producing more carbon copies of “Can’t Hold Us” and “Thrift Shop”?
A reason Macklemore and Ryan Lewis might have made the choices that they did for this album because they don’t care too much about their commercial success in comparison to their personal message. That’s a commendable way to spend their time in the spotlight. The only question left is whether or not they will still have the spotlight for a third album after this mediocre effort.