Macklemore is the kind of guy who seems to hop in and out of the limelight from year to year. Back in the day, he had a few splashes with singles like “And We Danced,” before having a huge year in 2013, dropping hits such as “Can’t Hold Us,” “Same Love,” and “Thrift Shop.” It has been mostly silence since his explosion of popularity for Macklemore, and as a result, it seems fitting to see Gemini as being a sort of back-to-the-party album.
Macklemore definitely would like us to see it that way, as he booms out in the first verse of “Glorious,” one of the album’s singles exclaiming, “You know I’m BACK!”
It certainly grabs the listener’s attention, and poses a whole host of questions for the uninformed consumer, like “Where is he back from, the bathroom?”
Many have made a big deal over this being Macklemore’s first solo album in 12 years, but calling Gemini a totally solo act is being more than a bit generous. Every song (except one) has a feature, with some of them taking up very significant portions of the song. That being said, not all the features are bad. Having multiple artists show up on your album can be viewed as a good thing, as it keeps the whole thing varied and interesting for marathon listening sessions.
The appearance by our good friend Lil Yachty, on the track “Marmalade” is certainly a highlight not to be overlooked. His presence here could be verified simply for his brand name and current sizzling levels of popularity, but his influence in the song goes beyond being a mere pop-culture icon. His drawling vocals and bouncy, energetic lyrics really lend vast amounts of life and vigor to an already flowing song, making it easily the best on the album. The song oozes so much infectious charm that one will find it impossible to not heed the song’s lyrics and go “Be ridin through the town / My music loud / Windows down yeah you can hear me now” before eventually getting reported by a group of uptight neighbors for a noise complaint—it was fun while it lasted.
Macklemore should take cues from the success of “Marmalade” and apply them to his other pieces of music. Regardless of whether he likes it or not, his best works are upbeat, lighthearted, and easy to listen to and enjoy. The actual musical content of his songs, while certainly a factor, tend to be less important than his lyrics. Two of the stronger works on the album, “Ain’t Gonna Die Tonight” and “Intentions” both have very different musical styles—loud, brash, and ringing versus quiet, reserved, and plucking, respectively. But both soar due to being blessed with Macklemore’s unmistakable crisp tone, with lyrics going on about both self-promotion and humorous self-deprecation. The importance of Macklemore’s lyrics really underline a key factor of his music that separates him from the rest of the hip-hop pack nowadays. Recently, rap has been getting more and more abstract and interpretative, with artists such as Lil Uzi, Young Thug, and especially Lil Pump mumbling phrases into their microphones that are at best barely English and at worst cryptic demonic chants. Macklemore however, chooses to crisply enunciate every word that he puts out, which is a refreshing change from the majority of modern rap artists.
But Macklemore considers himself more than a simple one-trick pony who only writes mainstream, easily digestible pop-rap hybrids—but his attempts to inject musical variety throughout the album unfortunately fall rather flat. Macklemore is not Drake, no matter how hard he tries to be in “Zara” and “Ten Million.” Nor is he a poppin’ 2017 Soundcloud rapper, regardless of his best efforts with a choppy lyrics and a goofy backing track in “Willy Wonka.”
To be fair, these songs are just a few duds in an album that is, when it sticks to its strengths, mostly solid. Macklemore pulls a few more tricks out of his sleeve with a large amount of his songs, featuring some Chance The Rapper-esque trumpets and jazzy undertones to back his decidedly non-Chance The Rapper-esque voice, but it works well all the same. The features on a whole are good, with one of the big names, Ke$ha, certainly pulling her own weight in the soothing and nostalgic “Good Old Days.”
While it is nothing extraordinary, the majority of Gemini features a variety of easy-on-the-ears, uplifting, and satisfying pop-rap hybrids. Its overall effect is dragged down by only a few songs that fall mostly because their composition and themes are rather out of left field for Macklemore. Perhaps Gemini not as bombastic a return as Macklemore would have initially hoped for, but a good homecoming, nonetheless.
Featured Image by Bendo Records