22 December 2009

Record Roundup for 2009: Pop

MIKA: The Boy Who Knew Too Much
Casablanca Records B002M9FWQE

And now for something completely different: an album to dance around the room in your underwear to. If we were uncertain as to that purpose, Mika gives us full authorization: he spends most of his time in the video “We Are Golden” dancing around the room in his underwear. It’s all about being young and impatient, sassy and unfocused, and by golly, few songwriters have done it better. (Especially the underwear part.)

The Boy isn’t exactly a sophomore slump — it’s chockfull of catchy melodies — yet it’s a step down from his debut album, Life in Cartoon Motion, and it represents what I presume to be a conscious scurrying away from Cartoon Motion’s surprising emotional depth and honesty. Indeed, The Boy is by far the cartoon-ier of the two.

What Mika knows too much about, I suspect, is fame. The first album was such a hit, and followed by such intense public scrutiny, that he changed the way he goes about his business. To cite but the most glaring example, with the album’s success came a tremendous public interest in his sex life. Every journalist inquired whether he was gay, and one fellow even threatened to kill Mika if he didn’t come out of the closet.

He wasn’t all that closeted, yet he didn’t want to speak plainly. The glam and pop artists of the 1970s who are his direct ancestors could gender-bend and play as coy as they pleased, and Mika must have believed he could follow their lead. He couldn’t. He has at last come out (about as directly as a boy can who doesn’t want to spoil — or halve — his chances of getting laid on a Saturday night), but to compensate for this violation of his privacy, he’s slammed shut a number of other doors.

It says something, I think, that after repeated listenings, I can’t remember more than a couple of lyrics. These weren’t Mika’s strongest suit, even on Cartoon Motion: he has a weakness for false rhymes, and sometimes one can’t be sure what he means, or what story he’s telling. In “Love Today,” from the first album, I defy anyone to tell me what’s going on in the verses — until you get to the unforgettable, instant-hit chorus: “Anyway you want to / Anyway you’ve got to / Love love me.” He tries a similar approach in “We Are Golden,” already a hit and probably the album’s best song. Yet please note that, when we arrive at the chorus of the new anthem, he’s talking about a lot of people — and not about himself alone.

Having made one of the most stirring arguments in favor of pop music in modern, Mika now retreats to the shallowness of the kind of pop that needed defending in the first place. He’s no longer a personal songwriter. That’s a pity. But he’s young — he’s got time and talent enough to grow — and you know what? There are times when you want to dance around the room in your underwear.

Another Kind of Cartoon Motion:
Mika in the Video for “We Are Golden”

He’s got a lot of energy, doesn’t he?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

HEY!!!! I LOVE MIKA!!!!!