Is there, legitimately, anything that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis can’t do? This is the third track from Macklemore’s ‘The Heist’ that has been reviewed on this here blog after I got all excited about ‘Thrift Shop‘ and hugely intrigued by the political bent of ‘Same Love‘, which is not the kind of thing we like to do. Being all about spreading the music love, focusing on one artist is anathema to our mission statement here at OAD. That said, when that artist is Macklemore and the Seattle local is literally tearing up the world week by week and planting his ‘Heist’-themed flag in every new territory he lands in, some accommodations can be made. Today’s post also comes in light of Billboard’s announcement a few hours ago that this track had gone number 1 Stateside. Given the intense popularity of ‘Thrift Shop’, accomplishing that feat might not be surprising. What is unexpected is that this makes the duo (with Ryan Lewis on production duties), the first act in the Hot 100’s 55 year history to hit the top spot with their first two official singles. Ignoring the fact that the two have been producing and releasing songs since the early 2000s, the second coming of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis is simply astonishing.
Commercially, the success is almost outside the bounds of comprehension. Macklemore is renowned for releasing and distributing his material independently, so the triumph is a significant affront to the traditional distribution channels and puts paid to the idea that you have to be on a major label to make a dent in the US music market. Even more impressive is the faith that the M/RL camp had in this track, re-releasing the track originally serviced to the masses in 2011 earlier this year, now with a flashy, globe-trotting, world-conquering video to boot. Money from Miller beer and Outlook would have gone some way to footing the bill for the horses, camels, planes and boats but in many ways, the advertising pick-up (and the hits don’t come much bigger than a Microsoft account) speaks volumes about the track’s memorable quality. Ads have 30 seconds to make an impact and music directors have to be on their game. Salvaging this track when every indication a couple of years ago was that it was too much for the mainstream was a big bet on their part. I said earlier that there was nothing Macklemore and Ryan Lewis couldn’t do but releasing a single that could match the great heights ‘Thrift Shop’ scaled must definitely have been somewhere in the vicinity of the too hard basket.
The task was made a little easier by the fact that this is, fundamentally, an unbelievable song. ‘Thrift Shop’ was hilarious, full of the kind of piss-taking that nobody with any celebrity does properly anymore and a sax riff so excellent Google auto-completes ‘sax riff’ to ‘sax riff thrift shop’ but if we’re splitting hairs, it can tend to be on the gimmicky side after the thousandth spin. By contrast, ‘Can’t Hold Us’ is just bona fide brilliance. Just as most of the world’s great pop songs are written by a select clique of Scandinavians, so too does ‘Can’t Hold Us’ bristle with the energy of a team who have been writing for years and are comfortable enough with each other to write an unabashedly uplifting anthem. The go-getter sentiment at the heart of ‘Can’t Hold Us’ would grate if not for the fact that it is sourced in Macklemore’s own career narrative. The track walks a fine line between sheer exhilaration (dude can actually rap that fast) and being overwhelming but sticks determinedly to the former path so that 4’25” later, your ears are tired but you feel good about the fact. The contribution of gospel/RnB singer Ray Dalton is not to be understated in the same way as Wanz’s start turn in ‘Thrift Shop’ helped make that song. No one voice is louder than any other on ‘Can’t Hold Us’, though, and it’s this sense of collaboration and intrinsic harmony in all of Macklemore’s releases (distinguishing the career prostitution and hungry capitalism that often motivates those that hit the coveted top spot) that makes for wholesome listening experiences. Song, video and Billboard record in the bag, ‘The Heist’ was a terrifically prescient thing to call that album.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Can’t Hold Us Ft. Ray Dalton