Album Review: Mika, “The Boy Who Knew Too Much” (2009)

I fell in love with British singer-songwriter, Mika, from the moment I heard his first album in 2007.  Mika’s debut CD was based around the idea that he was going to be a pop artist, but not the standard one on the radio.  He wrote his own songs and he wrote about unique topics (like growing old, or falling in love with someone of the same sex), and he did all of it with a campy, yet endearing, Freddie Mercury swagger.

When Mika’s second studio album, The Boy Who Knew Too Much was released in 2009, I bought it immediately, but found that it wasn’t as impressive as I expected it would be.  Sure, Mika hasn’t wavered from the formula of his first album, but it also seems like he’s resting on his laurels a bit here.  There is no undeniably fun track like “Love Today” nor a track with a catchy chorus ala “Lollipop”- at best, we get a few decent pop songs, a couple of nice ballads, but overall, there’s not much on the album that makes it worth purchasing.

The album begins with the lead single, We Are Golden, a boisterous ode to being a teenager.  Mika and his background singers shout about being proud of who they are (“Who gives a damn about the family you come from?/No giving up when you’re young and you want some…/We are not what you think we are/We are golden, we are golden!”), and the song plays as a perfect anthem for being young, or feeling generally misunderstood.

Blame It On The Girls has an equally carefree vibe, though this time adapting a sort of summery feeling with a chorus that sounds like something right out of the 80’s.  Meanwhile, the bluesy-ness of Dr. John comes as a bit of a surprise, especially when paired against the more straightforward pop music on the album, but by the chorus, the song has turned into a full-fledged pop spectacle and I can just imagine the jazz hands and spirit fingers that would occur during a live performance of this track.

Though the pop songs are nice, if not terribly interesting, the album really picks up for me with mid-tempo ballad, Rain.  Don’t get me wrong, musically, this is still a pop song, but the change in tempo and new wave sound are really what make the track stand out.  The catchy chorus (“More than this whatever it is/Baby, I hate days like this/Caught in a trap I can’t look back/Baby, I hate days like this/When it rain and rain and rain and rains”) just adds to the song’s fun, and the track is easily one of my favourites on the album.  On the other hand, I See You, is the album’s first real ballad, and it’s another delight.  Mika’s falsetto sounds lovely as his vocals float along the piano melody, and the sparse production leaves more focus on the pretty sound.

Mika Glastonbury

Mika duets with one of my favourite indie singer/songwriters, Imogen Heap, for the ambient ballad, By The Time.  I’ll admit to the track sounding a lot more like a Imogen Heap song than a Mika song; the intricate vocal arrangement, twinkly synthesizer, and poetic lyrics (“Wasn’t I allowed three strikes and out/No, but you said I could, said I could just one night/By the time I’m dreaming/And you’ve crept out on me sleeping/I’m busy in the blissful unaware”) have Heap’s name written all over them, but that’s not a bad thing.  The result is a stunningly beautiful ballad, and another of the album’s highlights. Pick Up Off The Floor is another ballad, but is again, one of the best songs on the album.  The track opens with a gorgeous string arrangement before fading into a melancholy number, which Mika delivers earnestly, leaving his falsetto for the chorus and allowing his voice to settle into his lower register for the verses.

The rest of the album consists of a mixed bag of upbeat pop songs.  Blue Eyes is a flamenco-inspired dance song, with a repetitive chorus that tends to irritate me after a few minutes.  Good Gone Girl is a playful, fast-paced pop song, calling to mind “Grace Kelly”, but unfortunately doesn’t contain the same sort of catchy chorus.  One Foot Boy sounds derivative of We Are Golden, yet again, lacks any of the charm the previous song held.  Toy Boy is one of the upbeat songs on the latter half of the album that I actually enjoy; the theatrical vibe seems like something from a musical, and Mika’s jaunty delivery is imperceptibly fun.

The album ends with Lover Boy, another of the better dance tracks.  There’s again a hint of theatrics, particularly in the toe-tapping beat and horns, but Mika’s quite good at making music that’s a bit cheesy and fun without it going over the top (see: all the songs on his debut album).

It’s unfortunate that I didn’t enjoy The Boy Who Knew Too Much, particularly since I was hoping to love it.  Mika definitely does well with the ballads, but the pop songs aren’t very memorable, and just seem like standard pop fluff you’d hear on the radio (or gay bar) somewhere.  I’d definitely recommend his first album to this one.

Rating: 3_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. We Are Golden
2. Blame It On The Girls
3. Rain
4. Dr John
5. I See You
6. Blue Eyes
7. Good Gone Girl
8. Touches You
9. By The Time
10. One Foot Boy
11. Toy Boy
12. Pick Up Off The Floor
13. Lover Boy

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEhutIEUq8k]
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