Album Review: Mika, “Life In Cartoon Motion” (2007)

The name, Mika (pronounced “mee-ka”), may mean nothing to you, but I’m predicting now that he will be the next big thing. The 23-year-old singer is the UK’s latest import and his glam rock/pop sound is just the kind of upbeat music that everyone’s been waiting to hear for a while.

I first heard of him through a friend on Last.Fm and she sent me his debut CD, Life In Cartoon Motion a few weeks before it was released here in the States. I fell in love with the album during the first listen, which is usually rare for me. But the twelve tracks on this CD are incredibly infectious and I dare anyone to listen without wanting to dance get up and dance.

The album begins with the lead single, Grace Kelly, which is currently receiving heavy rotation on MTV. It’s pretty easy to see why- the song boasts a contagiously fun chorus and satirical lyrics about artists who try to satisfy record execs (“I could be wholesome/I could be loathsome/I guess I’m a little bit shy/Why don’t you like me?/Why don’t you like me without making me try?…/Should I bend over?/Should I look older just to be put on the shelf?”). This track also gives us our first glimpse of Mika’s voice, which is most reminiscent of Freddie Mercury (Mika even pokes fun of this in a line during the chorus). The song provides a bouncy and upbeat start to a great album.

Lollipop is next and is probably one of the most fun songs I’ve heard in a long time. The track is composed of a loud and bubbly melody (hand clapping in the background adds to the charm) and a simple, albeit merry, chorus (“Sucking too hard on your lollipop/Oh, love’s gonna get you down/Sucking too hard on your lollipop/Oh, love’s gonna get you down/Say love, say love/Oh, love’s gonna get you down”). I suppose the track could be annoying to some (the horns towards the end do cause a bit of a headache), but you can’t really say much against a song that’s all about…lollipops. Right.

You may have heard the chorus of Love Today on the Verizon commercials, though I had no idea that the song was sung by Mika until I bought the album. Anyway, the track continues the fun of its predecessors with another cheerful melody and addictive chorus (“Everybody’s gonna love today, love today, love today/Everybody’s gonna love today,/Anyway you want to, anyway you’ve got to/Love love me, love love me, love love”). Mika works out his upper register during the verses (sounding especially like Mercury), and then sings in a much lower register during the choruses. His voice actually has a nice tone to it, and it should be say that he’s quite a good singer.

Mika3

The tempo slows down a bit with Relax, Take It Easy. The song sounds like a lost 80’s new wave track, from the synthesizers in the background and right down to Mika’s vocals during the chorus. However, it’s not a bad thing at all, and the song is another strong track on the album. Any Other World is somewhat of a ballad, with a slow piano opening and a children’s chorus at the end of the track. Mika’s vocals are again the highlight of the track, and the lyrics (“Take a bow, play the part of a lonely lonely heart/Say goodbye to the world you thought you lived in/To the world you thought you lived in”) are sincere without seeming too clichéd.

Billy Brown starts right off with Mika telling us the story of Billy Brown’s life in the first verse (“Oh, Billy Brown had lived an ordinary life/Two kids, a dog, and the precautionary wife/While it was all going accordingly to plan/Then Billy Brown fell in love with another man”). The chorus sounds like something from Schoolhouse Rock (and is also fun because I can substitute my name for Billy’s- “Brown…oh Brittany Brown!”; sorry, I’m easily amused), and the entire song makes me smile.

The same can be said for Big Girl (You Are Beautiful), which is just as silly as the song before it, and just as great. The track seems almost like an update of Fat Bottomed Girls (and from now on I promise to not make anymore Freddie Mercury/Queen comparisons), and I honestly cannot resist the urge to dance during the disco-sounding chorus. The lyrics are hilarious (“You take your girl and multiply about four/Now a whole lot of woman needs a whole lot more”) and by this point in the disc, you can’t help falling in love with Mika.

Though collectively, the album is pretty strong, there a few songs that aren’t as great. My Interpretation is a mid-tempo track, that ends up being a bit dull, save the anthemetic chorus (“‘Cause I don’t care if I ever talk to you again/This is not about emotion/I don’t need a reason not to care what you say/Or what happened in the end/This is my interpretation/And it don’t, don’t make sense”). Stuck In The Middledoesn’t have a very present melody, and despite the lyrics being a bit better (“I sit and think about the day that you’re gonna die/Your wrinkled eyes betrayed the joy with which you smiled” ), the song sort of comes and goes without leaving much of an impact. Likewise, Ring Ring (Which has no relation to the ABBA song of the same name) is another fast-paced track, that isn’t offending enough to be bad, but also not interesting enough to really be worth listening to.

The album comes to an end with Happy Ending and Erase. The first of the two is probably my least favorite song on the album; everything from the melody, female vocalist, and the lyrics (“This is the way you left me/I’m not pretending/No hope, no love, no glory/No Happy Ending/This is the way that we love/Like it’s forever/Then live the rest of our life/But not together”) are incredibly cheesy and uninspired. However, a hidden track, Over My Shoulder, comes in a few seconds later and saves the song. Mika sings entirely in falsetto with nothing but a haunting piano melody to accompany him (this song was especially eerie the first time I listened to it, whilst reading the ending of the first act of Equus; if you’ve read Shaffer’s play, you’ll understand why I was more than a little creeped out!). The song really shows off Mika’s vocal ability and is such a beautiful track. Erase isn’t much more than a typical pop ballad, but that’s its strength. Even Desmond Child (Kelly Clarkson, Michael Bolton, Aerosmith) is on hand as one of the co-writers and the result is a nice song that’s reminiscent of some of Robbie Williams’ work.

All in all, Life In Cartoon Motion is a great album. Mika’s blend of glam rock and pop is fresh and enjoyable, and producer, Greg Wells has also done a terrific job with the songs on the album. Much like fellow Londoner Lily Allen, Mika’s debut is filled with great music that isn’t exactly awe-inspiring, but is a whole lot of fun, and there’s definitely nothing wrong with that.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Grace Kelly
2. Lollipop
3. My Interpretation
4. Love Today
5. Relax (Take It Easy)
6. Any Other World
7. Billy Brown
8. Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)
9. Stuck In The Middle
10. Happy Ending
11. Erase
12. Ring Ring (Bonus Track)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaEPCsQ4608]
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