"Glorious" feels the most like a Macklemore song you'd expect, beginning with piano chords and a clap track highlighting the beat that eventually includes a choir providing some layers to this stadium-ready anthem. The addition of Skylar Grey definitely helps the track stand out and provides some contrast to Macklemore's never-slowing flow.
"Marmalade" also begins with a piano line, but goes in a different direction as the booming kick and steady high-hat hits provide a backdrop for Macklemore's autotuned, laid back raps about having a good time. The feature of Lil Yachty fits the tone of the track, (I personally don't like Lil Yachty's music, but he was definitely the right choice for the song). It's almost too cheery for my taste, but that seems like it was the intention with the song (hence the name).
"Willy Wonka" feels like it falls in the same category of ridiculous songs as "Thrift Shop", "Castle" and "Downtown. What does make it different than the other songs I mentioned is the instrumental. Instead of the indie-rap vibe, Macklemore goes full trap, huge bass kicks and a simple synth hook. It takes some getting used to, but this is definitely a song that you'll want to play in the car, very loud and very obnoxiously. You can't help but laugh a bit while listening to the chorus as Macklemore shouts "Bitch I'm Willy Wonka" (which I have absolutely no idea what that's supposed to mean).
"How To Play The Flute" is similar to "Willy Wonka" in both the ridiculous factor and the heavy trap vibe. This one definitely has a more of a sexual vibe (the title itself is an innuendo), although that's ruined a bit by the section where recordings of people sneezing alternate with Macklemore blessing them during the chorus.
Not all the songs are just for the good vibes or laughs, however. Tracks like "Ten Million", "Over It (Donna Missal)", "Church (feat. Dave B & Travis Thompson)", and album finisher "Excavate (feat. Saint Clarie)" all display a sense of depth, lyrically, that set them apart from their counterparts I mentioned above.
"Ten Million" has trap influences as well, but with a darker and harder vibe. This is a form of Macklemore we don't see as often, a cocky, taking-shots-at-other-rappers, boastful artist, where he takes them on in their own comfort zone (trap). Despite being heavy with the trap influences, I really enjoy this track; the trash talking that takes place in rap is part of what draws some people to it, with the exaggerations that are almost addicting.
"Over It" chronicles a toxic, cycling relationship where Macklemore goes back and forth about the relationship and how it continues to damage both parties involved. This song utilizes the instrumental to highlight aspects of the lyrics, making them stronger and giving them a bigger impact. At about the 2:30 mark Macklemore launches into one of his most powerful, moving, and fastest raps of the album that's absolutely captivating, very much thanks to his delivery, but also to the growing and tension-building instrumental (especially the string parts).
"Church" slows things down, bringing out a jazzy instrumental as Macklemore raps about where he's at in his life and the path that brought him to that point. Some of my favorite lines on the album are from this song, such as "I learn more from loss than the gain" or "You see I was given a role, never played my part". Macklemore seems to be reflecting on his own spiritual journey as he's grown older, found success, and had a child of his own. Whether he believes in God or not isn't made entirely clear on this song, but it is clear that he has been wrestling with the ideas of religion and what it means to him and the way his life has played out. It feels very honest and raw, something I enjoy immensely in artists.
"Excavate" is the final song of the album, and Macklemore wraps up his latest release in a powerful way. Saint Claire does an incredible job making a beautiful chorus - easily one of the best parts of the song; the lyrics are as follows:
"Fill my lungs up, pour my heart out, peel my bones away
Crack my window, shed my shadow, excavate my pain
And I found peace
And I found peace
And I found peace"
Macklemore uses this song to examine his purpose and intentions for pursuing the success he's had. He wants there to be meaning left when people strip away all of the fame, the money and success, and he wants to make a lasting impact on this world. It's a worthy issue to wrestle with, and Macklemore does a great job of being honest and laying out his thoughts on the track.
There are a few tracks that fall somewhat in-between these two main categories I've discussed above. "Zara (feat. Abir)" is a feel-good track about a budding relationship, full of cute and flirty moments that fit the bright and light-hearted feelings that are associated with a new fling. It's got a bit of a R&B vibe that fits (especially with the reference to 90's R&B in the song), as the relationship slowly erupts into something deep and meaningful.
"Good Old Days (feat. Kesha)" tackles nostalgia and the importance of enjoying where you are, as things change as time progresses. Macklemore specifically talks about the difference between when he started trying to become successful with music, and how he got to the place that he dreamed about but also still sometimes wishes he could go back to the times before the fame. Kesha's vocals are great on this track (I'm also just happy that she's been able to take back her image and create the persona she wants to be known, sans the auto tune, as her voice is actually very lovely without it).
"Corner Store (feat. Dave B & Travis Thompson)" and "Firebreather (feat. Reignwolf) both have a good times vibe to them, but differ in execution. The former has a mix of old-school and trap as Macklemore raps about being younger and the carefree nature before he was pursuing his dream The later takes a rap-rock approach, with a guitar line leading the song over drums from an actual drumset while Macklemore takes the opportunity to show off and brag a bit.
I personally think that Macklemore is at his best when he digs deep and talks about real, hard situations (especially his past and his struggles with drug addiction). Songs like "Otherside", "Starting Over", and "Kevin (feat. Leon Bridges)" are some of my favorites from him because they are raw and stripped down to the truth of the matter. Not to say that Macklemore's fun vibe is bad - "Thrift Shop" was one of the main reasons I started listening to him and I think he has a lot of quirky tunes that are a different kind of fun than you expect.
Back near the very beginnings of this blog, I wrote a little post (in January of 2013 - WOW) about my thoughts of him overall (see that post here). I went back and reread that, and noticed that the things I just addressed were the things that I talked about with him initially. I love his sense of purpose and pushing for the causes he believes in. That was the main aspect of this album that I felt was lacking, the depth and purpose that was so strong on his previous releases. And maybe this album was necessary for him, and I hope it's very successful because I still greatly enjoy his work and want to support him and see him succeed. My hope, however, is that his ability to highlight issues and causes that he is passionate about comes back even stronger on his next release, whether that's with Ryan Lewis again or not. He does get closer to this place near the end of the album, and that's the parts that I enjoyed the most.
In interviews that he has done regarding this album, he has mentioned that this album was made the way it was for a couple of reasons, two of which struck me. One, he wanted to make music that was the kind that he wants to listen to, and that a lot of the music is happy because he is in a good place. I can very much respect that, and if this music continues to be what he makes because he continues to be happy, then I'll continue to support him in that.
I have to add a note before I finish. After watching some live performances of the new songs, as well as listening to the album multiple times, I find it growing on me more and more. Despite the lack of a more serious tone, it is fun, it is catchy, and it's hard to resist that. Maybe, in spite of the state of the world and the tensions and problems, the timing of this album is perfect. We need something to remind us to have fun, not to take things so seriously, and to enjoy ourselves. The problems are still there, they're still being addressed, but if we let them bog us down constantly, then we lose the enjoyment that can come from life. And I think, perhaps, that was Macklemore's intention with this record. I was originally going to give the album 3/5 rating. But after some more thought, I'm going to bump it to a 3.5/5. I know that might not seem like much, but it's significant in my eyes.
Recommended: "Glorious", "Ten Million", "Zara", "Over It", "Willy Wonka".