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Nothing is ever quite what it seems with Macy Gray. Take, for example, the dress that the funky singer wore at MTV's Music Video Awards. The front read "My Album Drops September 18, 2001" and the back commanded "Buy It!"

On one level, Gray's garment could be written off simply as shameless self-promotion. However, because the dress was so over-the-top, it also seemed like Gray was making a larger statement about the commercial nature of celebrity and the awards show itself. The simple truth is that all of the performers who appeared on the show were hawking some product, whether it was a new album, a forthcoming movie or simply themselves. Gray's dress just made explicit what other stars tried to keep hidden.

Her stunning jam of a sophomore album, "The id," which is released today, is similarly layered with meaning. The quirky effort seems expressly designed to appeal to fans that are enamored by Gray's freaky, and at times disturbingly freakish, persona. There's even a song called "Freak Like Me."

But, at the same time, the album sometimes chides these same listeners for being drawn to Gray's nutty image. It's as if she's telling these fans, "it takes one to know one" when she sings, "you are relating to a psychopath/you must be real far gone," on the opening number.

Of course, one of the primary reasons why people think Gray is so strange is her odd, crackling, sometimes childlike voice. Its wounded rasp imbues simple sentiments with a knowing poignancy, as on her Grammy-winning breakthrough hit "I Try."

Gray uses her strange pipes to deeply moving effect throughout "The id," with her vocals sounding richer and more evocative than ever. She expertly conveys a range of emotions on the set, from plaintively pledging romantic devotion on the tender "Sweet Baby" to giving someone a swampy Southern soul kiss off on "Don't Come Around," to threatening a potential paramour with an AK-47 on the "Gimme All Your Lovin' Or I Will Kill You."

This humorous cut also helps explain why the ever-eccentric Gray is so appealing to mainstream audiences. She's able to convey her real or affected lunacy in an accessible way. While most people won't go out and threaten their dates with semi-automatics (let's hope), a lot of single folks will be able to relate to the song's closing lyrics: "you got to get love however you can."





(Epic Records)

Rating: ****

(Out of Four)

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