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Album review: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, ‘This Unruly Mess I’ve Made’

Success is a cruel mistress for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on their conflicted, cameo-stuffed follow-up to “The Heist.” Macklemore’s ambivalence about fame casts a shadow on the wildly overproduced album, marked by jarring tonal shifts. “I wish I could go back to the day before I became famous overnight,” he raps on the jaded, double-speaking “Need to Know,” either waxing nostalgic or subconsciously paying penance. “Light Tunnels,” a tedious takedown of the media and celebrity culture, ends with self-flagellation for secretly desiring a spotlight in the circus. He turns into hip-hop’s Harry Chapin with “White Privilege II,” an overly earnest nine-minute psychodrama about guilty conscience, cultural appropriation, and race relations — it’s interesting as a conversation starter, numbing as a piece of music. Macklemore’s better when flashing wit in his conversational flow on a throwback “Downtown” or eviscerating an overmedicated America (“Kevin”). Well intentioned but frequently clumsy (“I want to be Hugh Jackman/ you know jacked, man”), the record demonstrates that the duo’s skills haven’t yet caught up to their ambition.

KEN CAPOBIANCO

ESSENTIAL “Kevin”

Ken Capobianco can be reached at franznine@live.com.