Thoughts on Mika's new album "The Origin of Love"
So I've been wanting to write up a little something about Mika's new album ever since it came out, but for the two weeks since it came out stateside I just haven't been able to figure out exactly what I wanted to say.
See, Mika is a very significant musical artist for me; probably one of my favorites. I first heard his debut album "Life In Cartoon Motion" at a crazy and happy point in my life. It was my first year of college, I finally felt like I was coming into my own as a person, I was in a relationship, making lots of new friends, making lots of art that I was excited about, and the almost childlike, effervescent enthusiasm present in "LICM" matched all of those feelings to a T.
His sophomore album "The Boy Who Knew Too Much" had a much more evolved sound - There was a little bit more melancholia, the feeling of a little more maturity. That album came out the same month that I was going through a really difficult break-up, a crisis about what I wanted to do with my life, my career choices... That album will always hold a special place in my heart because it really became my anthem and my soundtrack to get through that tricky time. I also believe that, as a whole, "TBWKTM" is a much stronger album than "LICM." When listening to "LICM," I often find myself skipping about a third of the songs - Mika's ballads and sad songs on that album just feel overdone to me and don't mesh tonally with everything else. "TBWKTM," on the other hand, is an album that I listen to all the way through every time - I like all of the songs on there and love the way the whole thing's laid out.
Which is why I find it so disappointing that on Mika's new album, "The Origin of Love," I find myself skipping songs again. In fact, of the 13 songs, I find myself skipping 5 of them every time I listen. The album's first four songs, "Origin of Love," "Lola," "Stardust," and "Make You Happy," are all great. "Stardust," in particular, has become a new favorite of mine, especially for driving around Los Angeles at night. After that is a triple whammy of duds: "Underwater," "Overrated," and "Kids," three songs which I just find incredibly boring and slow. I don't just like Mika when he's fast, upbeat and bubbly: His slower songs like "My Interpretation" and "Happy Ending" are beautiful, moving, and catchy as well. I just feel like he's missing something on this album...
This was Mika's most heavily-produced album. "LICM" and "TBWKTM" were both recorded with mostly acoustic instruments, with an emphasis on piano, drums and guitar. There were obviously exceptions, but his instrumentation was typically fairly simple. The song "Kick-Ass," (written for the film of the same name), was the first song that Mika did that felt more produced. It was produced by REDONE, the same producer who came to fame doing a lot of Lady Gaga's material. It suddenly marked a tonal shift for Mika, going towards a much more mainstream sound, and it definitely got a mixed reception. I for one really like "Kick-Ass," but was also able to see the problem that many fans had with it. "Kick-Ass" suddenly had Mika using auto-tune and an emphasis on electronic drums and beats. It felt... odd. And unfortunately that sound has carried through much of "The Origin of Love." It's not bad, but it's just not as good.
I definitely listened to "The Origin of Love" with high expectations. This was a musician whose first two albums had marked milestone periods of my life and scored much of my memory's soundtrack, so how could I not? What with fighting unemployment and all the stresses in my life these days, maybe I was just hoping for another album that could help me get through it, like "TBWKTM" did for me.
I went for a drive last night to give "The Origin of Love" one more full listen-through and decide how I felt about it. I think my decision is that, while not totally disappointed by it, I can't say that I've been particularly thrilled either. What came out of it was a handful of songs that I quite like and will definitely end up in circulation of music that I listen to, but as a whole the album isn't going to end up among "Discovery," "Plastic Beach," or "The Boy Who Knew Too Much" on the list of albums that I enjoy putting on and listening to all the way through.
Following a musician while they're still creating new music is a funny thing. You as a listener are evolving at the same time that they, as an artist, are changing and growing too. Sometimes you match up perfectly, and sometimes you veer off in different directions. Sometimes the musician changes too much or sometimes they stay the same for too long. I still count Mika as one of my favorite musicians, even if I can see that his music has changed in a way that's pretty different from how my tastes have changed.
It means that in a few weeks or months I probably won't be listening to this album very much. And it means that I probably won't anticipate his next album with as much eagerness. But every time one of my favorite Mika tracks, like "Love Today" or "We Are Golden" or "Celebrate" comes on, maybe on shuffle while I'm stuck in traffic on the highway, I'll still crank up the volume and sing along. And during that time I'll think back on the memories I've got with his music and remember just why I love it so much.