Album Review: Jason Mraz, “Love Is A Four Letter Word” (2012)

I’ve been a fan of Jason Mraz for quite a few years now.  I’ve enjoyed all of his albums, listened to his songs countless times, drove four hours to see him in concert (and I swear to you, it was one of the best, most fun/interactive concerts I’ve ever been to!), subscribed to his personal blog, etc.  Basically, in my eyes, everything Mraz touches turns to gold.

In 2012, when Mraz released his fourth studio album, Love Is A Four Letter Word, I was obviously thrilled.  I bought it the day it was released, and put it on as soon as I got home.  And I listened.  And I wasn’t impressed.  I think I originally described it as, “one never-ending acoustic guitar track with some breezy vocals; it’s like elevator music for a hippie festival”.

It’s been a year since the album was first released, and I admittedly don’t feel the same way now. The disc has definitely grown on me since then.  Yes, the lyrics aren’t as snappy as they were on Mraz’s other albums, and sure, there are quite a few acoustic guitar tracks that sort of blend together, but that doesn’t really make it bad album.  It just took some time for me to see the good tracks that were hidden amongst the filler.

The laid-back, tropical sounds of The Freedom Song start things off.  The track has a bit of a breezy, beach feeling to it, until a jazzy trombone gets added in after the first chorus.   Mraz seems to like these groove tracks- we heard a few of them on We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things– and this one is exceptionally groovy.

The relaxed vibe continues with Living in the Moment, another reggae-lite track that even starts off with Mraz whistling a few chords from the song.  This sounds like a update to “I’m Yours”, however, the lyrics are a bit more meaningful this time around.  I actually love the sentiment behind this song; I think I’m someone who worries a bit too much and I often think of the lyrics in this track (“I will not waste my days/Making up all kinds of ways/To worry about all the things/That will not happen to me”), when I’m feeling particularly frazzled.  From what I can gather from Mraz in the interviews he’s done, he’s a very thoughtful person, and I definitely appreciate his laid-back perspective on life.

The Woman I Love 
is another song I completely connect with.  Again, this mid-tempo ballad sounds like a sequel to a track on his last album (“A Beautiful Mess”), as he describes a complicated lady he’s dating.  Despite all of her flaws, though (“Maybe I annoy you with my choices/Well, you annoy me sometimes too with your voice/But that ain’t enough for me/To move out and move on/I’m just gonna love you like the woman I love”), Mraz is sure that she’s the woman he loves.  I absolutely love the message of the song, because, really, there is no perfect person and true love is about accepting someone and loving them- imperfections and all.

Another ballad follows with I Won’t Give Up.  This song was the album’s lead single, and definitely took a long time to warm up on me.  The understated melody- just a few chords on an acoustic guitar- and Mraz’s somewhat dreary delivery- didn’t do much to impress me on the first, second or even fifth listen.  It wasn’t until I really listened to the lyrics (“Well, I won’t give up on us/God knows I’m tough enough/We’ve got a lot to learn/God knows we’re worth it…”), that I fell for the song.  And perhaps it’s the understated nature of it that makes it so good- this is a simple love song and I suppose it doesn’t need a flourish of instruments or powerhouse vocals to get its point across.

Jason Mraz en concert

The album begins to hit a lull from this point on.  Upbeat song 5/6 sounds like it wants to be a dance track, but the bluesy melody doesn’t really inspire much besides a few moments of toe-tapping.  Everything Is Sound sounds like a less impressive version of “Living in the Moment”, and I’d still classify sleepy ballad 93 Million Miles as the aforementioned hippie-festival elevator music .  I like the lyrics in Frank D. Fixer, as Mraz sings of wishing to have the same qualities his grandfather had (“Frank D. Fixer was a handyman/He could handle anything; he was my granddad…/He’d reinvent the part to fix the broken home/He’d restore the heart/Well I wish I was a fixer/I would fix you up inside/I would build you a town if the world fell down/I wish I was that guy”), but the music is a bit too over-the-top cheery-  verging on cheesy-  for me to every properly enjoy the song.  Emotional ballad In Your Hands, is a bit too depressing for me to ever really listen to.  I suppose the broken-hearted lyrics might reflect upon the end of Mraz’s engagement with Tristan Prettyman, but his dejected vocals, deflated lyrics, and desolate melody are just a bit too sad to actually be enjoyable.

Luckily, the album is saved by the last few tracks.  I started listening to this CD again last week after shelving it for several months, and Who’s Thinking About You Now instantly stood out as a new favourite.  Mraz has definitely mastered the art of mid-tempo ballads, and this is one of his best.  The mellow sound is set off perfectly by the earnest lyrics (“Just when you suspect that life couldn’t get no harder, something comes/Along and makes your dark day darker/The weight of it all falls on you/Who will be the one to listen when it’s time to listen?/Who will be the one to miss you when you’ve gone missing?/Well, I do/Do I qualify, qualify, qualify, qualify, qualify?”), and Mraz’s lyrics- though a bit unconventional- actually end up being quite romantic. Mraz has flirted with a blues sound a few times so far on the album, but he actually accomplishes it this time with the downtempo ballad, Be Honest.  The opening guitar, drums and marimba automatically set the chilled-out, blues vibe, and Mraz’s silky vocals float effortlessly along on the track.  Indie-pop musician, Inara George lends some backing vocals to the track, but honestly, her effort is a bit unnecessary; Mraz carries this song perfectly on his own.

The disc ends with, The World As I See It, an epic love song.  Mraz compares his love for his paramour to being as big as the world (“It’s not hard for me to love you/Hard for me to love you/No it’s not a difficult thing/It’s not hard for me to love you/Because you are the world to me”), which is incredibly sweet, if not a little bit saccharine.  The song then melds into a hidden track, a slower-paced ballad called I’m Coming Over.  I’m not sure if it’s just because this song sounds a bit similar to some of Mraz’s other ballads, or perhaps I’ve heard it before on a live CD or in concert, but the refrain especially sounds familiar to me (“I hope you notice/That I’m still in love with you/Yes I’m coming over, tonight/I’m coming over, tonight/I hope you notice I was never over you.”).  Still, I enjoy this ballad even more than the one before it; Mraz loves to sing about love prevailing and he’s so good at writing and singing about it that I can’t fault him for revisiting the subject so often.

Love Is A Four Letter Word is definitely a grower.  The first times I listened to the album, none of the songs really sank in, but when I think about it, none of Jason Mraz’s albums were favourties of mine upon first listen; they all took repeated listens for me to enjoy the understated melodies, or pick up on the lyrics, or remember the choruses.  That’s definitely not a bad thing, however- Love.. is at all times listenable, but it just might take a little time to really stick with you and become the great album that it’s capable of being.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

Track List
1. The Freedom Song
2. Living In The Moment
3. The Woman I Love
4. I Won’t Give Up
5. 5/6
6. Everything Is Sound
7. 93 Million Miles
8. Frank D. Fixer
9. Who’s Thinking About You Now?
10. In Your Hands
11. Be Honest (feat. Inara George)
12. The World As I See It

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1-4u9W-bns]
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