By Stef Siepel
The release of Mika’s first album is as long as five years ago, though it seems like it must surely have been last year. The songs were popular, immensely so. The singles were vibrant, colorful, but also kind of hyper. Perhaps if you did not like the sugar rush of ‘Grace Kelly’ or ‘Big Girls’, there was not much else in the songs that might redeem it. So I guess it was polarizing to an extent, though attracting so many fans that, for them, who cares? It will be interesting to see though if on his new album The Origin of Love, with an armada of collaborators, Mika can find a sweet spot for both his fans and for those who tuned out when they had to hear ‘Relax, Take It Easy’ for the umpteenth time.
The answer to that question — and lets just get that cat straight out of the bag — is both yes and no. Yes, simply because there are some really good songs on the album that are both catchy, within the thematic world of Mika, yet not off-putting to people who might not actively participate in that universe. No, in the sense that some of the songs consist of that terribly generic party beat which might be okay for the charts or casual listeners, but which have a greater likelihood to start grating after multiple spins (I am looking at you Benassi!).
Indeed, the biggest offender of this is ‘Stardust’, on which Mika worked together with Benny and Alessandro Benassi. Mika, by nature, has a certain exuberance, enthusiasm, and vibrancy to him. Great tools, but put that over one of those mainstream party beats and you get exactly what you don’t want; a thirteen in a dozen “party” song which is not only interchangeable but, because of the plus and plus of the hyped up beat and vocals, is likely to be actively off putting to those who are not die-hard fans. That song is not the only one on the album in that category though, with ‘Overrated’ and ‘Love You When I’m Drunk’ also squarely in that camp.
However, there are plenty of songs on there that will please probably nearly everyone that is even slightly open-minded. True, some sounds are a bit niche, like opener ‘Origin of Love’ which, one day, just has to be used in a musical. It has that build-up, that grandiosity one can see performed on a stage where increasingly more people will come up and start dancing and singing together. Which, mind you, is not a knock. That kind of over-the-top-ness fits Mika’s vocals and demeanor, but perhaps it is not everyone’s taste, especially when it goes into latin chanting (or when it disses the love between Adam & Eve, turning it into this totally positive song for the individual you, which is a theme you can expect on an album of his).
Lovers of pop, though, should be quite taken with ‘Lola’ for example, on which he worked with Ben Garrett of Fryars. You’ve got a lovely bass there, some handclaps, and a pretty clear radio pop sound that balances out Mika’s vocals, which he tries to keep understated here. Catchy, easy-on-the-ear, but with that distinct voice and that theme of how true love will always get to you, which perfectly fits in the Mika realm. The song ‘Make You Happy’ is a nice change of pace with the vocoder and the more “complex” drums, but still you’ve got the vocals and the themes and message of Mika on there. The duet ‘Popular’ has this more of an R&B vibe, also thanks to Priscilla Renea. Yet, it is about popularity, being picked on, and how everybody is a star (and you only happen once). So there are variations in sound and form, yet there are also stable elements that keep on returning.
For me, that is when this album shines – when you still have the themes Mika is comfortable with and that he wants to bring out, but when it is not packaged in that generic party style. And whether it then goes slight R&B, or a bit contemporary as in ‘Make You Happy’, musical like in the title song, or catchy pop with ‘Lola’; that all doesn’t matter. Actually, the different sounds are nice as it gives the album some variety and keeps it exciting, this while Mika’s personality keeps the songs bound together so that the album still feels like a whole entity. Those songs with these blunt beats in combination with Mika’s natural sugary energy, that’s where the album is both unsurprising and where it becomes off-putting on repeated listens.