Mac's back, baby, Mac's back. The slacker hero slows things down on his fourth full-length album, finding catharsis in gentle instrumentation and thoughtful lyrics
If you were to believe certain corners of the internet, then Mac DeMarco deserves to be cancelled. By inadvertently giving his fourth studio album, ‘Here Comes The Cowboy’, a similar title to Mitski’s brilliant 2018 effort ‘Be The Cowboy’, Mac was accused by hundreds of Twitter users of trolling.
Even though it appears to have been a mere coincidence – along with the fact that both records led with a single called ‘Nobody’ – it’s fair to say the album announcement was a little clumsy. However, the brutal way in which Mac has been criticised appears to have much to do with armchair pundits tiring of the idea of the modern hipster – an image that Mac, with his fitted caps and vintage jumpers, pretty much personifies.
This backdrop means ‘Here Comes The Cowboy’ has far more controversy surrounding it than each of Mac’s previous three albums. Away from that, though, this is the funkiest record of Mac DeMarco’s career, with its serene charm and more introspective songs proving its creator now cares less about what will play well on the festival stages and more about letting us inside his head.
The record is paced slower than his previous work, with the coked-out synths of raw highlight ‘Baby Bye Bye’ clearly inspired by emotionally dense records such as Sly & The Family Stone’s ‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’. It’s obvious slowing things down musically has been cathartic for Mac, as gentle tracks such as ‘Nobody’ and ‘Preoccupied’ inspire more thoughtful lyricism. On the latter, the singer criticises a Trumpian culture in which minds are “open” but “filled with bullshit”.
It’s clear Mac is most inspired by classic pop-rock from the 1970s; ‘Here Comes The Cowboy’ is at its best when its creator tries to replicate the melancholic piano-powered ballads of his heroes such as Elton John and John Lennon. To this end, the escapist ‘On The Square’ is easily one of the best songs of Mac DeMarco’s career. That’s not to say ‘Here Comes The Cowboy’ is perfect — more playful tracks such as the title track and ‘Choo Choo’ are a little irritating and feel like a step backwards, both possessing a silly subversive energy that detracts from the record’s dark bluesy atmosphere. Yet, on the whole, this is a lovely little record that shows clear artistic growth.
It’s littered with the trademark stoner vibes and kooky sound effects you’d expect to hear on a Mac DeMarco record, but there’s also plenty of evidence of experimentation too – the high notes Mac hits on ‘Finally Alone’ show he is pushing his vocals further, while tracks such as ‘Heart To Heart’ have an edgy electric buzz that’s more rave culture than slacker rock. As a lyricist, he also sounds more focused than ever before, capable of sardonic assessments of the American dream, something that’s particularly evident on ‘All Of Our Yesterdays’. The song has a sarcastic edge, thematically exploring the idea that a lot of the best things about our past have disappeared and won’t be coming back.
‘Here Comes The Cowboy’ suggests Mac DeMarco is ready to explore more mature themes and grow beyond the slacker image he has helped turn into a pop culture staple. This record’s slower pace won’t be for everybody, just as unassuming previous album ‘This Old Dog’ wasn’t, but, should you let it, this record will transport you somewhere calm and reflective. At a time of great chaos, that sure sounds good to me.