I have all five of Macy's studio albums, and I think they're all incredible. I find that each subsequent album takes the prior album's template and refines it. There was a pattern of a couple of catchy singles, a couple of really deep ballads, a couple of club-appropriate tunes, a couple of songs to get carried away with in live performance, and of course at least one song about sex and murder (e.g. I've Committed Murder, Give Me Your Love or I Will Kill You, My Fondest Childhood Memories, and Strange Behavior, respectively from the first four albums). In some way, each album tops the first one, in the sense that she's gained experience, maturity, and musical wisdom. But what distinguishes The Sellout from its predecessors is that it does not follow the prior template. And in that regard, The Sellout stands out from its contemporaries.
I've waited very vigilantly for The Sellout, and it was worth the wait. Actually, I find Beauty in the World to be a bit wholesome, and it's certainly much lighter than the other tracks on the album. So I hope that people who aren't grabbed by the first US single don't miss the rest of The Sellout for the wrong reasons. Sonically, I think the album is well-made, and it's impressive to consider that Macy produced the lot independently. The savvy listener might detect the difference in major label production values on Big versus Macy's having set up shop in a rented studio to record The Sellout. But the independence of The Sellout is a huge triumph in itself, and the meaningfulness of it resonates in the music.
Lyrically, this album is masterful. I really appreciate Macy's honesty. I think her assessment of the music industry's "fair-weather friends" is socially relevant, and it's a breath of fresh air at the same time. It gives us analytical and thoughtful substance, yet it relates to Macy on a personal level. She also talks about depression, addiction, and even suicide on the iTunes pre-order track Lost. These are not topics we discuss every day, so The Sellout covers considerable ground.
It would be hard to pick a favorite on The Sellout because all of its songs are both outstanding and diverse. Initially, I was surprised to see that Still Hurts was included on The Sellout. I downloaded Still Hurts nearly a year ago off of iTunes, and the song originally featured a different collaborating artist. But Still Hurts has since been cleverly refined, and I like it much better now. Romika is a terrific new singer, and her voice is perfect for that song. There are other, subtler brush strokes in the new version, such as the way Macy sings, "I can't believe I'm not your girl" or the way she cries "you AIN'T coming back" just before the song's closing. Macy's attention to detail is triumphant.
One critic scorned that The Sellout would not change the arc of Macy's career. I would argue that The Sellout is well-poised to follow a stable sales trajectory, and I also predict that its songs will continue to find their way into other forms of mainstream media, such as movies and television. Although the industry critics are writing frustratingly mixed reviews, they all seem to agree that Macy Gray has an irresistible voice, and she is a very talented songwriter. I think in a lot of ways, Macy Gray is just getting started.