Album Review: Jason Mraz, “We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things” (2008)

I’ve always had a sort of up and down relationship with Jason Mraz and his music. His debut CD, Waiting For My Rocket To Come impressed me greatly, while his 2005 follow up, Mr. A-Z, well…failed to do so. I still called myself a fan of his, but there is no denying that I wasn’t very sure if I would enjoy Mraz’s newest effort, We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things.

The title confused the heck out of me from the start- that’s for sure. And when I heard the first single, I was even more confused. Was that really Jason Mraz on the radio, or Jack Johnson? It seemed as though Mraz’s new CD would be a bit different from his past stuff, and well, curiosity got the best of me.

Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed.

The album begins with the cheery Make It Mine. Right from the opening lyrics (“Wake up everyone/How can you sleep at a time like this/Unless the dreamer is the real you”), you’re presented with a fun, upbeat song that fits in perfectly with a breezy summer day. The melody is upbeat and bouncy, and Mraz’s vocal delivery is appropriately light and carefree. A choir is briefly introduced during one of the verses, giving the song even more of a fun flavor, and I can guarantee you that it’d be extremely hard to listen to this song without wanting to smile.

Next up is the aforementioned first single, I’m Yours. The song has a tropical, “lazy day on a deserted island” feel to it, which is exactly why I originally mistook it for a Jack Johnson song. However, Mraz pulls the style off well; the song is another light, feel good track that was a huge hit this summer. From the catchy chorus (“I won’t hesitate no more, no more/It cannot wait, I’m yours”), to the airy, summer-like sound, it’s easy to see why the song was such a success. Mraz brings in fellow pop/rock singer Colbie Caillat for the midtempo delight, Lucky. Now, you’ll have to forgive me while I have a stereotypical girl moment here, but this song is so cute! Every girl I knows has agreed that this is one of the most adorable songs ever written- you pretty much can’t have an X chromosome and listen to this song without saying, “Aww!” All the gushy sentimentality aside, the song is clearly a standout track on the album. Caillat’s voice blends amazingly well, and the sweet lyrics (“I’m lucky I’m in love with my best friend/Lucky to have been where I have been/Lucky to be coming home again/Lucky we’re in love every way”) are romantic without being over the top, or too sappy.

Butterfly changes the direction of the album a bit; being an uptempo dance track, of sorts. The first time I heard the lyrics, I remembered grinning; Mraz is back to his old tricks of innuendo and geeky sexiness (see Clockwatching, a song on Mr. A-Z, for more examples of this). Lyrics like, “And you make my slacks a little tight, you may unfasten them if you like/That’s if you crash and spend the night” and “Let me feel you up side, down slide, in slide, out slide, over here/Climb in my mouth now child” don’t leave much to the imagination, but the song is tastefully done and fun. The soul sound actually works well with Mraz, and the horn line in this song always makes me want to get up and dance. Bravo, Mraz. Bravo.

The tempo goes down a few notches with Live High. I never quite know what to think of this song. Musically, it goes through a few interesting changes- at first, beginning as a slow ballad, and then picking up towards the end with a gospel choir. I do like the melody, but I’d prefer the livelier ending to the beginning of the song; the first few minutes seem to drag on. Lyrically, the verses tend to annoy me with the irrelevance (“Glory God, oh God is peeking through the blinds/Are we all here standing naked/Taking guesses at the actual date and time/Oh my, justifying reasons why/Is an absolutely insane resolution to live by”), but I do enjoy the lyrics in the chorus (“Live high/Live mighty/Live righteously/Takin it easy/Live high, live mighty/Live righteously”)- on a good day, I can think of this song as being somewhat inspirational (the choir definitely adds to this feel). Either way, Mraz’s vocals are smooth and his delivery is great, giving the song some much needed charm.

Another JM lends his vocals to the disc, on Details in the Fabric. British singer/songwriter, James Morrison helps Mraz sing a few lines in this ballad. The song tackles life’s issues and how to deal with them (“If it’s a broken part, replace it/If it’s a broken arm, then brace it/If it’s a broken heart then face it”), and the song is another triumph in songwriting. Anyone could relate to having a hard time in life, and Mraz and Morrison sound like good friends offering advice (“Hang on/Help is on the way/Stay strong/I’m doing everything/… everything will be fine/Everything in no time at all”). As far as their vocal chemistry goes- both men sound great, but together, sound almost too similar; at times it’s too hard to tell which of the two are singing- their voices blend that well. To be honest, Morrison sounds more like a backup singer for Mraz during the song, which doesn’t sound bad, but isn’t necessarily the desired effect for a duet between two musicians. Anyway, the song is one of my favorites on the album, and you’ve gotta love the voice mail message at the end- just in case you were getting too sentimental (“I feel like you’re an island of reality in an ocean of diarrhea. And I love you, buddy”- thanks Mraz.)

If you were starting to feel too dreary after such a heavy song, no worries- next up is Coyotes, an upbeat song with another memorable beat. The catchy one-liners (“No wonder I’m a one woman man/She keeps my heart in a jar on the nightstand”) and a chorus that plays as an anthem (“Coming back for more/You know I’m coming for you/You know we should be should be together/While we rock, we won’t put a stop/Not today not tomorrow”), make the song great- as well as the addition of a children’s choir towards the end and the return of Mraz’s operatic singing (well, very briefly after one of the verses- but it’s there!)

The Dynamo Of Volition is another upbeat song, though this time around, Mraz sings the verses so quickly that he’s almost rapping. And no, I don’t mean rapping like he did in Curbside Prophet or Geek in the Pink; this time the lines are a lot tighter and Mraz doesn’t come off as a parody of something- the sound this time around is pretty legitimate. Still, keeping with his typical style, the lyrics remain fun and random (“I do not keep up with statistics/I do not sleep without a mistress/I do not eat unless it’s fixed with/Some kind of sweet like a licorice/My home is deep inside the mystics/I’m known to keep diggin on existence/I’m holdin’ in the heat like a fishstick/My phone- it beeps- because I missed it.”) but I wouldn’t really have it any other way.

Flickr - moses namkung - Jason Mraz 3

While the album has its standouts, it of course, has a few low moments. Love For A Child is my absolute least favorite song on the album. The twangy sound doesn’t sit well with me, the song seems to drone on, and the lyrics, while very well written, still aren’t very relatable (“What about taking this empty cup and filling it up/With a little bit more of innocence/I haven’t had enough, it’s probably because when you’re young/It’s okay to be easily ignored/I’d like to believe it was all about love for a child”). I’ll admit my problems with this song are all due to personal preference, but hey- you’re asking for myopinion here, so I’m giving it to you 😉

Meanwhile, songs like Only Human and If It Kills Me are just a bit too mediocre. The first of the two has a mellow, jazz sound, which is nice, but that’s about it. The lyrics aren’t incredibly interesting, and even the mellow beat tends to fade into the category of background music after a while. If It Kills Me is more uptempo, but is another that will fail to immediately draw your attention. The lyrics are good enough (“Well all I really wanna do is love you/A kind much closer than friends use/But I still can’t say it after all we’ve been through/And all I really want to do is to feel you/As the feeling inside keeps building/And I will find a way to you if it kills me/If it kills me”), and the sentiment- about falling for a friend who’s oblivious to your intentions- is something most can relate too. Still, the song lacks a little extra something that would’ve made it stand out more. Basically, there are just far better/memorable songs on the album than these ones.

Sadly, the album doesn’t end with such a song. A Beautiful Mess is a slow, somewhat dull, ballad. The song is the longest on the album, and while Mraz sounds lovely and the lyrics are again, well written (“Well it kind of hurts when the kind of words you write/Kind of turn themselves into knives/And don’t mind my nerve you can call it fiction/’Cause I like being submerged in your contradictions dear/’Cause here we are, here we are”), the track heads nowhere and fades into nothingness towards the end. Not exactly the best choice for the end of the album.

All in all, We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things is Mraz’s most solid effort to date. The album is a great showcase of his versatile range, vocal ability and songwriting skill, and any fan of Mraz’s or good music in general will enjoy this album.

Rating: 200px-4.5_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Make It Mine
2. I’m Yours
3. Lucky – (featuring Colbie Caillat)
4. Butterfly
5. Live High
6. Love for a Child
7. Details in the Fabric – (featuring James Morrison)
8. Coyotes
9. Only Human
10. The Dynamo of Volition
11. If It Kills Me
12. A Beautiful Mess

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkHTsc9PU2A]
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