Five years ago, Mika was on top of the world. Hailed as the brightest star in pop with a number one debut single and a multi-platinum, five million plus selling debut album (Life In Cartoon Motion) it seemed inevitable that he was set fair for a career of chart domination. Things, however, took a rather unexpected turn and 2009’s follow up The Boy Who Knew Too Much was markedly less successful. Perhaps unfairly, Mika has slipped almost entirely out of pop’s consciousness, usurped by all manner of new stars. It is very difficult to work out where he now stands in 2012’s pop pantheon, and his third album The Origin Of Love only reinforces the somewhat strange position Mika now occupies.
The Origin Of Love is a subdued return, with little of the ebullient flamboyance that characterises Mika’s earlier work. Brash chutzpah is largely replaced by understated gracefulness. Away from the spotlight, Mika embarked on a mission over the last three years to find new collaborators and new ideas to flesh out his own pop vision, leading to The Origin Of Love being by far his most collaborative record. The album features song writing and production credits for Australian producer and member of Pnau and Empire Of The Sun Nick Littlemore, Benny Benassi and several others. But perhaps the most intriguing collaborator is 23 year old Londoner Benjamin Garret aka Fryars. All these collaborators help create an album that is far richer in sound and scope than any of Mika’s previous albums. Much of the frivolity and excess has been stripped back in favour of a simpler sound with the intention of letting the melodies and the songs shine through. The album sounds immaculately lush, Littlemore’s production skills giving it a super smooth sheen.
It is immediately noticeable from the opening title track that what we hear now is a different, older and wiser Mika. It is a remarkably restrained piece of gentle pop, nice enough but ultimately uninspiring, a malaise that runs through much of the album. The best moments echo the traditional song writing of The Bee Gees or Fleetwood Mac at their lightest, the lovely sashaying pop of Lola being perhaps the best example. Mika sounds entirely at ease as he delivers the lyrical kiss of “Lola, I’ve made up my mind, I’m not gonna fall in love this time.”
The Origin Of Love is an album enlivened by fleeting sparks of brightness and thrills. The chorus of the lightweight dance pop of Stardust makes up for the dour verses and Overrated features a fantastic hook. Unfortunately, these moments are offset by a number of turgid and ponderous tracks that are severely lacking in both personality and vibrancy. Not an accusation you could previously level at him. The final section of the album provides some welcome relief, the perfect pop of Emily and Popular – a tune that appropriates elements of the same song from Broadway musical Wicked. These tracks are where Mika feels most at ease.
The final track and lead single Celebrate sums up this rather curious album. It is a lovely piece of elegant disco but something seems missing. It lacks that decisive spark. This is not helped though by a phoned in guest vocal by a completely disinterested Pharrell Williams. You are left with the impression that, for some reason, Mika is holding something back.
The Origin Of Love is an album that is unlikely to help Mika recapture the staggering levels of success of his early career, however, it should help to re-establish him as a songwriter and as an artist. It is an accomplished pop album but one that struggles to make any sort of lasting impression.