Tom Conway- Indy Music Writer
Mac Miller has come a long way since the 2011 album Blue Slide Park. Although that album reached No. 1 on Billboard’s albums chart, it received an abysmal 1.0 out of 10 from Pitchfork. Following his commercial peak, Mac Miller used his popularity and newly acquired financial resources to hone his skills. In 2013 “Watching Movies With the Sound Off” marked the beginning of Miller’s creative bloom. It was a radical departure from Blue Slide Park. Mac replaced his old pop-rap style with more off-the-wall, absurdist rhymes (check out the song “SDS”). Since then Mac has been exploring and expanding his identity as an artist. His most recent release, The Divine Feminine (September 16th, 2016), deals with the intricacies of love through Mac Miller’s eyes. It is a smooth and thematically cohesive listening experience with some impressive highlights. However, Mac Miller’s voice doesn’t do justice to the backing music, the lyrics can be vapid at times, and the chosen theme isn’t handled in a unique or compelling way. That doesn’t necessarily mean The Divine Feminine is bad, it simply means it won’t endure as a classic album.
Mac Miller is not a good singer, plain and simple. The more restrained singsong-rapping on “Skin” is tasteful, but his R&B wailing on “My Favorite Part” feels awkward on its own and sonically mismatched with Ariana Grande’s pitch-perfect voice. “My Favorite Part” highlights another issue that plagues The Divine Feminine: uninteresting lyrics. The chorus goes like this: “You just don’t know how beautiful you are, and baby that’s my favorite part.” Are those pleasant and catchy lyrics? Yes. Do they also sound like something One Direction would sing? Absolutely. Stereotypical lyrics like those (and juvenile sexual one-liners) are peppered throughout The Divine Feminine and they come off as a rather uninspired way to handle supposedly “divine” feminine energy.
Despite its flaws, The Divine Feminine has standout tracks and details that redeem it. The overall soundscape of the album is warm and organic which conveys an aura of sensuality. It is constantly listenable. Thick, soothing bass appears on almost every track. Careless Whisper-esque saxophone riffs at the beginning of “Skin” blend perfectly with the lush synthesizers, then the beat drops and smooth jazz guitars fill the song out. Surprisingly, a grand piano appears on the opening (“Congratulations”) and closing tracks (“God is Fair, Sexy Nasty). This thoughtful use of instrumentation helps bookend the album, giving it a distinct beginning and end. Another detail that adds to the album’s cohesion is the inclusion of a testimonial from an elderly woman describing her long and happy marriage. This speech is the last thing listeners hear on the album. After 50 minutes of Mac Miller worshipping women over beats, he finally yields the floor to a woman for the closing statement. This helps define the album as an distinct musical experience as opposed to a random assembly of songs.
Although thoughtful details may add to its cohesion as a complete album, the crown jewel of The Divine Feminine is the infectious dance-rap single, “Dang!”. Featuring a hook from Anderson Paak. Mac Miller’s smoothest raps in recent memory, “Dang!” is clearly the most impressive and repayable track on The Divine Feminine. A massive, bouncing bass line locks listeners into a groove punctuated by impeccably recorded horns. The vocals fit that groove like a tailored suit. The song is slick and elegant, equally appropriate for a crowded college party or a late night drive.
On The Divine Feminine, Mac Miller presents listeners with a sequence of well-executed cliches. The album has a unified theme and sonic palette. The songs are easy to listen to, and the single, “Dang!”, is a straight-up gem. However, a closer listen reveals several stereotypical lyrics and a general inability to adequately articulate the divinity of feminine energy from which the album title is derived. For those reasons, The Divine Feminine will come to be just another title in Mac Miller’s expanding discography. For now, though, it deserves its 15 minutes of fame. (2.5/5)