Although the success of breakthrough single I Try has never been that heavy of an albatross around Macy Gray's neck to brand her with the dreaded one-hit wonder stamp, it's nonetheless something she's yet to match. The promise has always been there, just never fully realised to the same extent. Fifth studio album The Sellout, however, carries with it an optimistic twinkle that suggests such a return to form could be dangerously close.
Her last outing, 2007's Big, saw Midas-du-jour will.i.am at the helm, but its blockbuster production credits and collaborators failed to translate into much else. So it's perhaps unsurprising that The Sellout, executive-produced by Gray herself, takes a simpler, more modest approach - one that it benefits from hugely.
Where top-money pairings graced Big to little effect, the line-up of guests here is an odd one, including Velvet Revolver on the petrol pop of Kissed It, and even Bobby Brown on the endearingly cheesy Real Love, with its knowingly-goofy couplets ("Baby I would kiss you / Even if you had the flu") only adding to its charm. But vitally, Gray is very much the star of the show.
It's gloriously unpretentious stuff, steadfastly refusing to even acknowledge the existence of any kind of bandwagons or buzz-mongers. And yet, she's by no means playing it safe either - while it's very much an easy listen, it's far from pedestrian. It's got soul, certainly, but it's frisky, joyful and carefree. In fact, the conscious uncoolness of The Sellout is one of its key quirks.
Much has been made - often unfairly - of Gray's awkwardness and lack of convention. But after several stabs at clumsy conformity, it finally feels like it's something she's embracing, and that's massively evident here. The Sellout boasts a perfect, accessible sound bed for the distinctive vocals of a distinctive artist, and had it immediately followed her 1999 debut On How Life Is, it's likely Macy Gray's career trajectory would have travelled a strikingly different angle.