Album Review: Jason Mraz, “Mr. A-Z” (2005)

We last heard from Jason Mraz in 2002 with the release of his debut album, Waiting For My Rocket To Come. The album proved to be quite successful, but we didn’t hear from Mraz again until the summer of 2005 (save a live album that was released in ’04) when his follow up disc, Mr. A-Z was released.

Mraz tries hard to avoid the “sophomore slump” curse, but the album sadly falls into that exact category. Critics (and most of my fellow Epinions reviewers) panned the album, and I have to admit that most of the negative comments have been pretty accurate. There are a handful of gems scattered throughout the disc, and while I enjoyed Mraz’s debut album for it’s well-written songs and originality, most of Mr. A-Z lacks just that.

The album begins with Life Is Wonderful, a mellow, mid-tempo track. The song starts right off with Mraz quietly singing the first verse, which leads into a cheery, sing-along chorus. While the song is nice to listen to, the charm lies in its thoughtful lyrics (“And it takes no time to fall in love/But it takes you years to know what love is/It takes some fears to make you trust/It takes those tears to make it rust/It takes the dust to have it polished”), and the song provides a strong opener for the album.

Next up is the lead single, Wordplay. As the other reviewers have noted, somewhere between Mraz’s debut and this album he’s developed a bit of an ego. This much is apparent in the boastful lyrics (“For the people write me off like I’m a one-hit wonder/Gotta find another way to keep from goin’ under/Pull out the stops/Got your attention/I guess it’s time again for me to mention/The wordplay”), and despite the (somewhat) clever lines and bouncy melody, the song proves to be one of my least favorites on the album. I guess you aren’t quite the “wizard of ooh’s and ah’s and fa-la-la’s”, that you think you are, Mr. Mraz.

I remember hearing Geek In The Pink sometime in the fall of ’05 and laughing out loud the first few times I heard it. A R&B beat is laid down and Mraz even returns to rapping a bit (ala Curbside Prophet), in this hysterical tongue-in-cheek number. You have to smile at the lyrics, especially as he tells his ex, “Don’t judge me by the color, confuse it for another/You might regret what you let slip away/Like the geek in the pink”.

Did You Get My Message? follows and while isn’t remarkable, proves to be another nice song on the album. The jaunty piano at the beginning of the song sets a fun and upbeat mood as Mraz sings about the way words get twisted around in relationships (“Do you ever wonder what happens to the words that we send/Do they bend, do they break from the flight that they take/And come back together again with a whole new meaning/In a brand new sense, completely unrelated to the one I sent”). Singer Rachel Yamagata lends her voice to the track, but to be honest, I didn’t realize that she was singing until taking a look at the liner notes; I assumed Mraz was just signing in falsetto during her lines. Anyway, the song is tied together with another catchy chorus (even the typical “oooh oooh oooh’s” are present).

However, my favorite song the on the album is the ballad, Mr. Curiosity. It’s easy to forget that Mraz actually has a strong deal of vocal talent while listening to the songs prior to this one, which are all mostly focused on melody and lyrics, but his pipes are showcased here. The song starts off with a beautiful keyboard intro, before leading into Mraz’s melancholy lyrics. Mraz sounds both earnest and emotive as he sings the chorus and verses about becoming jaded in relationships (“I’m looking for love this time/Sounding hopeful but it’s making me cry/(Trying not to ask why)/This love is a mystery/Mr. Curious…/Come back to me”). The highlight of the song, however, is during the bridge, when an opera singer joins in for a solo. Strangely, and pleasantly enough, that opera singer happens to be Mraz himself. Yes, Jason Mraz pulls off these operatic vocals perfectly, and you’d think he might have a future on the stage after listening to this song. The whole piece is incredibly beautiful and the highlight of the album.

Jason Mraz Foxwood May 2006 1

Similarly, Plane is another ballad and another favorite of mine. A simple piano-based melody and vocals make up the song, and while it’s plain (heh…no pun intended) that Mraz is trying hard to be clever with the lyrics (“I cannot wait to call you/And tell you that I landed somewhere/And hand you a square of the airport/And walk you through the maze of the map/That I’m gazing at”), the heart of the song really stays in the melody and vocals. Mraz’s voice sounds great as he sings the chorus, and producer Steve Lillywhite does a stellar job with the track.

Clockwatching is another mid-tempo delight, that I had no idea what it was about until taking a look at the lyrics (“I’m off like an aeroplane/I’m licking your postage stamp again/I’m using my right brain and I’m praying that we don’t crash/Who knew I’d come so fast?/So what if a two pump chump can’t last/But I made it to three and I foreclosed a five-minute fantasy/On a short lived flight making love on economy”, says it all, don’t you think?). Even so, the breezy melody and fun chorus make the song another favorite, and if it weren’t for those naughty (yet terribly fun) lyrics, I’d say this would have made a great single.

But with the good, comes the…not so good. Bella Luna proves to be the first misfire- the Latin flavored track ends up being nothing more than dull, uninspired, and terribly annoying. O.Lover is another flamenco-sounding song, and while not nearly as boring as Bella, isn’t special enough to take notice of, and it seems as though Mraz screams his way through the choruses. Please Don’t Tell Her is equally forgettable, so much so in fact, that I forgot the song was even on the album until right now. Forecast is another ballad that somehow drags on despite its 3:45 length, and even the lyrics aren’t noteworthy. Strangely enough, it’s the only song that Mraz has ever done that made me think of John Mayer (despite the fact that people love to compare the two of them, I don’t think they have anything in common besides their initials), and I think Mayer would’ve done a much better job of the song had it been given to him, anyway.

The album comes to an end with Song For A Friend, which is probably the most disappointing song on the album. The track is written as a thank-you to a friend that’s given Mraz advice throughout his life, but you wouldn’t think so with the downtrodden melody and passionless vocal delivery. The song seems like something Mraz threw together at the last minute, instead of a heartfelt declaration to a friend. The gospel choir at the end makes me think of some corny “inspirational” movie that would show on Lifetime, and that definitely doesn’t help me like the song anymore. Finally, eight long minutes later, the song and the album come to an end.

To say that Mr. A-Z let me down is an understatement. I was so excited about Jason Mraz and his music after his debut, but very few of the qualities that attracted me to him then are present on this follow up. The songs that stand out are great, but the rest simply fail to amaze me.

Rating: 3_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Life Is Wonderful
2. Wordplay
3. Geek In The Pink
4. Did You Get My Message?
5. Mr. Curiosity
6. Clockwatching
7. Bella Luna
8. Plane
9. O. Lover
10. Please Don’t Tell Her
11. The Forecast
12. Song For A Friend

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdryssUmlpE]
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