Those of you who thought Macy Gray’s career began and ended with “I Try” are sorely mistaken. Yes, the Grammy-winning song has gone on to define her career (as much as a single song can define the career of someone whose personality can charitably be described as loopy), and her debut album On How Life Is has yet to be topped by her artistically (or commercially). But the five albums she’s released since her debut, while inconsistent in quality, have all had songs worth recommending, and remain interesting listening in large part because of Macy’s loopiness. She has a way of bringing character to the most mundane of songs, and then throwing you for a loop when you’re expecting nuttiness (like the very sweet duet with Bobby Brown, “Real Love,” that was featured on her last album, The Sellout). Inconsistent as she may be, she’s hardly ever boring.
That quality alone makes Macy’s sixth album, a collection of covers from a reasonably offbeat group of artists, interesting. I tend to dislike covers albums simply by virtue of not wanting to hear the same 10 songs remade in the same fashion over and over again. At the very least, some thought was applied to the concept by Macy’s folks. Most of these songs have never been covered. Very few of them are songs you’d have ever expected to be performed by Macy Gray. Some, like Awolnation’s “Sail,” are still legit radio hits. Of course, given the song selections, it also took me some time to gather up the coverage to give Covered a listen, thinking that it was as likely to be a train wreck as it was to be a solid record.
It’s definitely not a train wreck – even though there are some songs that might make you do a spit-take. Gray does a pretty good job Macy-izing these songs, to the point where some of them are near-unrecognizable. Wanna hear Macy mash up Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” with Nina Simone’s “Buck” and turn them into something uniquely Macy? It’s here, and I guarantee you that (unless you obviously know what song you’re listening to before you put the needle on the record) you won’t realize what song she’s covering until you get to the first chorus – maybe. She practically turns Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” into a prog-soul/gospel epic, and I dig her version of “Teenagers” better than I like My Chemical Romance’s original. Then again, I’m not a particularly big fan of MCR, so she didn’t have to do much to switch me onto Team Macy for that one. Same goes for her rendition of Colbie Callait’s “Bubbly,” a song that, in it’s original version, makes me puke. Macy turns it from insufferably cutesy to borderline goofy, and it works.
Actually, and this is extremely rare for covers albums, there’s more wheat than chaff here. The only track I could absolutely not get into was her version of “Smoke Two Joints,” which ventures very close to Wesley Willis territory (and here comes the obvious joke about wondering how many joints Macy smoked before recording this song), but otherwise, Macy acquits herself quite well. While not many of these covers hold a candle to the originals (and that’s kinda by design, innit?), there’s a lot more than karaoke happening here. Hopefully, for her next effort, Macy brings the same sense of adventure to a set of original tunes. I’ll certainly be listening.