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Review

Flamboyant artist matures with new album

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September 24, 2009

When London-based singer Mika released his debut album, “Life in Cartoon Motion,” in 2007, it was immediately recognized as a creation never to be equaled, let alone exceeded – a flamboyantly over-the-top celebration of joyousness that would make Lady Gaga blush. Though it was the fifth best-selling album in the world during that year, few records in recent memory have been greeted by such a spew of vitriolic hate.

“When you look like a diseased Leo Sayer, life is hard enough,” wrote critic Gareth Dobson for Drowned In Sound. “You don’t need to release an LP stacked to the rafters with benign saccharine filth that your coyote-ish features become a welcome distraction.” “Seriously, fuck Mika in the eye with a knife,” said another. Yikes.

Unfortunately, all of this malicious venom probably has less to do with the singer’s trademark effeminate power pop ballads (which, admittedly, will make many people’s stomach’s turn) and more about his sexuality, a subject he refuses to address directly.

Unable to stay outside of the spotlight for long, Mika has returned for round two, with his sophomore effort, “The Boy Who Knew Too Much.” This new release once again draws upon the likes of Freddy Mercury, Elton John and the Pet Shop Boys. Despite turning down the volume a few notches for his second release, the sight of the British pop crown is inching ever closer to the singer’s crosshairs. Although it’s a bit less fun, it’s more organized and mature, moving beyond carefree childhood musings and into the conflicted world of adolescence.

Born in Beirut, the 25-year-old possesses one of the most extraordinary vocal ranges on the planet-rumored to span as many as five octaves. At its highest, one must wonder if Mika injects helium into his vocal cords before each recording session. He wastes no time putting it to use on the first track, “We Are Golden.” Effortlessly jumping between a remarkable, ear-piercing falsetto and buttery-smooth tenor, it’s clear that Mika is back – as extravagant, colorful and charming as ever.

To describe the average Mika track as infectiously catchy would be a gross understatement. The track “Rain,” an audacious pop melody, juxtaposes a bubbly beat and childlike, high-pitched vocals with a downtrodden, frustrated lyrical offering. “This ordinary mind is broken / You did it and you don’t even know,” he calmly bemoans.

There are few genuinely interesting spots on this album, but Mika’s magical talent speaks for itself. “Boy Toy,” featuring classical infusions as well as a piano/flute sampling that sounds like it was lifted straight from a Fantasia, is a somewhat touching adult fairy tale. And, of course, there is his frequent tendency to switch between his usual howling deliveries and a more conversational style-almost like rap verse, where he speaks to listeners directly instead of singing at them.

Listening to a Mika album from start to finish is akin to eating candy. Listening to thirteen tracks or gobbling down three bags of Skittles will both result in a much-needed visit to the dentist. However, in most cases the disco-pop choruses he belts out are simply too irresistible to stay away.

Andrew Phelps is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.