Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Album Review: "The Boy Who Knew Too Much" - Mika

Time for that "difficult second album" with the usual big dilemma - how do you follow a phenomenal worldwide success like "Life In Cartoon Motion"? More of the same? Something radically different?
In Mika's case, he's smart enough to know his audience so he doesn't venture too far away from the first album's blueprint.
Lead-off single "We Are Golden" kicks off the festivities and welcoming you back to Mika's very own flamboyant musical universe. On first hearing I hated this song but it soon grew on me, however my enthusiasm stopped short of the enduring love that I have for "Relax Take It Easy" and of course "Grace Kelly". I won't be the first or the last to suggest that Mika, how shall I say, uses little musical reference points in his songwriting and half the fun is spotting them, e.g. "We Are Golden" = "Heaven Is A Place On Earth"/"Walking On Broken Glass".
Two more reference points for "Blame It On The Girls" which is an extremely catchy piano-driven foot-tapper. It starts with that "That's Not My Name"-type drumbeat, by way of "No Scrubs", anyway it's a typical Mika song and I can see it as a single somewhere along the way.
For me, "Rain" (the second single) is the best track on the album and I can only describe it as a pure pop song with an insistent dance beat which will appeal to fans of Europop: this one will go big on the continent, no doubt.
"Dr John" sees Mika in more overindulgent mood although this has also grown on me. "Blue Eyes" takes the "Graceland"-era Paul Simon route, via "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun", but it's not really one of my favourites despite there being nothing too wrong with it. As for "Good Gone Girl" this, like "Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)" is catchy and irritating in equal measures, but once that chorus is wedged in your brain you won't be able to remove it. As for "Touches You", well this throws in everything but the kitchen sink - gospelly vocals, over-indulgent falsetto vocals - and the result is reminiscent of "Love Today" only a bit more irritating.
Something completely different - "By The Time", which completely reins in Mika's trademark flamboyance and shows another more subdued side to the artist, which he may wish to develop as his career progresses. This for me is one of the best tracks on the album - it's pretty, quite dreamy, and very nice.
Back to the madness with "One Foot Boy" which, reference-point-wise, is a distant cousin of "We Are Golden" and the lyrics (my interpretation) could possibly be about journalists, or fans, or fame itself? Many of Mika's lyrics remain as ambiguous and private as the man himself.
As for "Toy Boy", can I say that this probably belongs more to musical theatre than on an pop album? I don't particularly like this song, it proves that Mika has great musical versatility and can write songs in a number of styles.
The album ends with "Pick Up Off The Floor" which may have become a fan-favourite already, but I really don't like it and can't see my opinion changing. It has a quite bluesy piano hookline and whilst I'm usually ok with his falsetto thing going on, it totally annoys me here.
Verdict: It's a good album however it's not a great one, and it's lacking a classic timeless song like "Grace Kelly" or "Relax". No great surprises here, it's Mika being Mika, which is fine by me. It's pleasing his current fanbase and not alienating anyone, however if he is to truly develop as an artist in the future, he may need to make some significant changes to his musical style.

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