Album: Macy Gray, ***

The Trouble With Being Myself, Epic

With her new album, The Trouble with Being Myself, Macy Gray regains much of the ground lost by 2001's lacklustre The Id. Compared with that album's sometimes lazy attitude, there's more obvious care and attention been paid to these tracks, but without sacrificing the infectious party-girl manner that is one of her most appealing characteristics.

That's evident right from the off, with the punchy, effervescent single "When I See You" sucking one irresistibly into Macy's eager affections. "When I see you/ I want to love you all over the place... I'm going to kiss you all over your face," she sings, with the daft enthusiasm of an over-affectionate pooch, as the party funk twitches forcefully around her. It's by some distance the best single released so far this year.

Macy may lack the vocal abilities of a Mariah, Whitney or Celine, but she more than compensates through her gritty intimacy and engaging sense of fun – never more so than on "Childhood Memories", the latest of her apocryphal homicide confessions. Set to a frisky groove midway between reggae and Latin American rhythms, the song finds Macy recalling the amply endowed babysitter with whom she fell out as a child: "I loved her till I caught her sexing with my father," she explains. "She wasn't a friend and so I killed her." Another acquaintance suffers the same fate after a similar liaison with her mother. But wee Macy's such a young offender the authorities let her go free, thereby enabling the most improbable of happy endings: "All grown up now, as you can see/ My parents are still happily married, thanks to me". As well they might be, with a psychopathic daughter keeping them faithful.

The Trouble With Being Myself is less dominated than previous albums by uptempo Sly Stone-style grooves, with Macy opting for a slower, trip-hop mode on "Happiness" and a funked-up Kraftwerk twitch on "She Don't Write Songs", one of several tracks proclaiming her amorous superiority over a rival suitor. Elsewhere, slower, organ-driven soul ballads like "Speechless" and the reproachful, anthemic "She Ain't Right for You" afford Macy ample opportunities to indulge the Deep Soul capabilities of her voice.

It's not a completely successful collection, by any means. The half-hearted "Things That Made Me Change" struggles to cohere into a decent song, as do the various contrasting contributions of Macy, Beck and the rapper Pharoahe Monch to the cant of "It Ain't the Money"; but there's more than enough here to compensate for the shortcomings of its predecessor. A welcome return to form.

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