A few years ago, you’d probably be able to get pretty long odds on the possibility of the biggest pop star of the year being a Beirut-born Londoner, with Leo Sayer’s hair and a bunch of songs hugely influenced by 70s disco and soft-rock. Throw in a remarkable vocal similarity to Freddie Mercury, and the bookies would be lapping up your cash.
Yet that’s exactly what’s happened to Mika – winner of the prestigious BBC ‘Sound of 2007’ poll and widely tipped as the hottest new pop star of the year. The emergence of the Scissor Sisters over the last few years has undoubtedly paved the way for him, and the recent success of The Feeling proved that there’s a huge market for 70s influenced soft-rock.
One listen to Life In Cartoon Motion confirms that you won’t be able to escape Mika this year. Each track is unashamedly commercial, blessed with hook-filled choruses that stick in the mind for weeks. You’ll have already heard Grace Kelly, the Scissor Sisters channelling Queen hit single which has taken up permanent residence at a radio station near you.
Grace Kelly is pretty representative of what Mika’s all about in fact. Beneath the bubblegum pop surface lies some dark lyrics – “Should I bend over?/ Should I look older, just to be put on the shelf?” – apparently directed at record company staff who had turned down his previous material. It’s big, joyous, dumb pop, and the only danger with it is that you’ll be utterly sick of it by March – when it’ll still be being played.
Mika’s voice may also prove to be a bit annoying to some. He has an unfeasibly high falsetto, which works on the Pet Shop Boys-like electro pop of Relax Take It Easy, but proves to be infuriating on Love Today. In fact by the time Stuck In The Middle rolls round, you’re increasingly concerned about the tightness of Mika’s underwear.
Another problem with the album is that it relies rather too heavily on the big, brash pop songs. Sometimes, as on Grace Kelly, it’s fine. Other times, such as the screamingly camp Lollipop, with it’s cheerleader-style chorus and child vocals, you want to smash the stereo in with a sledgehammer. Similarly, Big Girls (You Are Beautiful), an ode to the delights of the larger lady, wraps up its laudable message inside a tune that grates in the worst possible way.
Yet when Mika tries something a bit different, it sounds great. Billy Brown is a Beatles-esque number about a man leaving his wife and family for another man – it’s both witty and poignant. Possibly the highlight of the album is the dramatic ballad Any Other World, which starts off like a Michael Nyman piano rendition, before building up a string section quite beautifully. If this had been given to Robbie Williams, it could have revitalized his career instantly.
The final track, Happy Endings, also sees a wonderful vocal performance from Mika, sounding eerily like early Michael Jackson at one point, and working extraordinarily well with his backing vocals. It’s the sort of song you can imagine playing over the final scene of an ’emotional’ drama on TV – in fact, if it does, expect it to be downloaded straight to number one.
Whether you enjoy Life In Cartoon Motion rather depends on what sort of mood you’re in when you listen to it. At times, it’s so relentlessly bouncy and upbeat that you feel like mowing down an entire shopping centre with an AK-47. Yet there’s enough promise here to confirm that the hype about Mika is pretty much on the money. Expect him to be around for a lot longer than the next 12 months.