If you’ve never heard of Mika, do yourself a favor and look up “Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)” on YouTube. The young man you’ll see cavorting there (amongst a bevy of beautiful, busty women) has an irresistibly innocent smile, a tousled mop of hair, and a spring, asparagus-like build that allows him to turn mid-song cartwheels in videos that are a multi-colored feast for the eyes. His voice shoots up and down the octaves, sounding like auto-tuning, except that it feels so genuine. There are some pretty obvious Freddy Mercury comparisons available here, but Mika’s youth and earnest nature set him apart among modern artists. His first major release, 2007’s Life in Cartoon Motion, is irreverent, joyful, funny, and sexy, much like Mika himself. It was with great anticipation, then, that I awaited the release date of his second release, The Boy Who Knew Too Much.
Unfortunately, the work on this album doesn’t quite live up to the standard set by the first. It’s still utterly danceable, but missing is the insouciant genius of Life in Cartoon Motion, particularly tracks such as “Grace Kelly” and “Lollipop”, which hinted at a larger well of potential. Mika’s lyrics are always full of attitude– “Anyway you want to– anyway you’ve got to/love, love me!” he squeals joyfully on earlier single “Love Today”– and lyrics on The Boy are no exception. Sadly, many tracks still lack the depth of wit that gave other songs staying power.
The first single, “We Are Golden”, is quick-paced and will worm its way into your brain easily. The problem is that once it’s there, you may begin to listen to it closely– try not to. The song is a bit vapid, but if you can ignore that, it’s incredibly catchy. Backing singers (who sound like a chorus of angry teenagers, entirely appropriate to the song) scream the chorus along with Mika, and just see if you can help singing along.
Track two, and likely second single, “Blame it on the Girls” showcases Mika’s wide vocal range and silky tone a bit more. The fast-paced piano and charmingly repetitive chorus (“Blame it on the girls who know what to do/ blame it on the boys who keep hitting on you”) have this song begging to be remixed and pumped into every dance club in the country at high volume.
Imagine my disappointment, then, when track three, “Rain”, came out sounding almost exactly like Life in Cartoon Motion‘s “Ring Ring”. The two are melodic twins, and sadly, the original was better. The best thing about the track is the fake rain sound effects at the end. The next two tracks are similar– “Dr John” is inconsequential, and “I See You” overuses the piano and handclaps, which are employed to such lovely effect on so many other tracks. Here, they entirely overshadow the song, making the whole thing an exercise in cheese. “Touches You”, a later track, is the last of the phoned-in bits. The song is catchy, which is good, because if you focus on the rhythm, you might miss the totally creepy lyrics.
At this point, the avid listener begins to despair. Luckily, here is “Blue Eyes”, a Caribbean-rhythmed little confection that features much lighter piano and backing effects, giving Mika’s voice the emphasis it deserves. The next track, “Good Girl Gone”, is wildly catchy, fast and sassy. You’d need to hear it about five times to understand any of the lyrics. Fortunately, you scarcely need them. “Hanging out in the fancy bars/ with the boys who can play guitar”– what else do you really need to know? This song is pure fun. Similarly, “One Foot Boy” is sassy and light, and “Toy Boy”, whose protagonist is “accidentally tragic”, is a fantastical fairy-tale of a song with a flair for the theatrical– Mika at his very best.
Darker tracks “By the Time” and “Pick Up Off the Floor” round out the end of the album, showing off Mika’s lovely voice and depth of emotion in a way that’s not possible on the faster songs. At 12 tracks and 41 minutes long, this album feels over almost before it begins. It’s a surprising follow-up to his first release; Mika had a ton of singles off that album, and it’s disappointing to see that he didn’t manage to top his success there. Comparisons aside, though, The Boy Who Knew Too Much is a very solid, fast-paced album for anyone who enjoys quirky, quick-witted pop music, and is definitely worth a listen.