An artist like Macy Gray doesn’t go away quietly, and while the first few songs on Big, her fourth album (and first for Geffen Records), aren’t exactly small, they’re not gonna blow out your speakers either. It’s not until the fourth track, “Okay,” co-produced by Justin Timberlake with will.i.am (who oversees the majority of the album), that things start to heat up a bit. And it’s not even until the very end of the record that Big finds its groove with funky, feel-good songs like “Everybody,” a nod to Gray’s debut single “Do Something.” Timberlake ably shows his skills on keys, drums, and backing vocals, but despite Gray’s declaration on another JT-produced track, “Get Out,” that the current prince of pop’s got “the beat of the century,” he probably shouldn’t quit his day job just yet. Gray is quite fine on her own, co-producing one of the album’s best tracks, “Strange Behavior,” a tongue-in-cheek twist on misogynistic songs like Eminem’s “Kim” that’s also a kind of sequel to Gray’s own “Gimme All Your Lovin’ Or I Will Kill You.” As always, Gray’s lyrics are clever and irreverent (“You finally made me happy/When you walked out that door,” she sings on “Finally Made Me Happy”). Unfortunately (and not surprisingly), Gray’s already weathered voice is more worn than ever; she struggles to reach and sustain notes that should be comfortably within her range, which makes guest spots by Natalie Cole and Fergie—not to mention background singer Dawn Beckman, who practically has the chorus of “Treat Me Like Your Money” all to herself—not just a nice addition to the album, but a very necessary one.
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