It really is a breath of fresh air. As many besides me have observed, it takes the stereotypical boast raps extolling the virtues of expensive clothes, cars, etc. and flips it on its head. A song glorifying onesie pajamas with built in socks, coon skin caps, pink shirts and gator shoes, you say? Well, pour me a drink and toast to living the thrifty life, yes sir! But is the rest of The Heist so good? The answer: With only a few exceptions, yes.
"10,000 hours" begins the proceedings with a story of humble beginnings, starting out for the first time, fighting for the big break, and it does so charmingly. Right away the encouraging lyrics are a breath of fresh air. Practice makes perfect is fine, but you could also say "The greats weren't great because at birth they could paint / the greats were great because they paint a lot." Simplistic, maybe - but it makes for a nice bit of encouragement. Coming off this vibe, "Can't Hold Us" has some lyrics that oddly predicted the future before he gained fame such as "labels out here / now they can't tell me nothing." A ballsy statement then, but the massive success of the next track made it a statement with merit. Nothing much more to say about "Thrift Shop" than what I already did above, so moving onwards, "Same Love" is a better equal rights anthem than most because it starts [lyrically] when the singer was young, and deftly speeds forward to the present day. It can be preachy at times, but that is balanced out nicely with couplets like this:
"When kids are walking 'round the hallway plagued by pain in their hearts
A world so hateful some would rather die than be who they are
And a certificate on paper isn't gonna solve it all
But it's a damn good place to start"
And right there things balance out to leave a well-rounded song in support of marriage equality.
The disc explores a wide range of subject matter, especially on "Neon Cathedral" - the spare, echoing beats and the desperation in the voice speaking these words paint a visceral picture of alcoholism and how terrifying it can be. This track has a sort-of sequel later on in the disc with "Starting Over" which finds the reformed alcoholic lamenting the positive attention he's getting - not wanting to let those who adore him for his strength know that he relapsed. It's just as gut-wrenching, yet it's a track full of hope all the same, and does a great deal at bringing things full circle.
Later on in the disc we have yet another kind-of sequel in "White Walls" which is the "fancy candy paint Cadillac" version of "Thrift Shop" - it even starts out with bragging lyrics about candy painted cars that quickly turn things upside down - no expensive car, just a beat up used Cadillac with white wall rims. Nice little about-face, and again it's a refreshing change of pace from the usual. And for taking the piss out of record executives slinging too-good-to-be-true deals, the story-track "Jimmy Iovine" is pure gold. Equally cutting is the next track "Wing$" - a full-on evisceration of crass consumerism that hits all the right notes.
The thing that sometimes makes this album a bit too over the top comes with a recurring theme. Macklemore has managed to carve out a slice of success with not a shred of major label help. Sticking to this DIY mantra and not giving in to the temptation to "sell out" are clearly on his mind as song after song contains veiled and not-so-veiled references to staying true to those core beliefs. While they are most of the time inspiring ("Make the money don't let the money make you") - the hyper-active focus on this mantra track by track can get over-bearing at times. Thankfully never enough to ruin the album as a whole.
This whole proceeding started up with a lyrical proclamation "A life lived for art is never a life wasted." Quite true - and with the popularity this album has, hopefully more of the thoughtful music out there that gets overlooked will now get some time in the spotlight.