Album Reviews

Mika – The Boy Who Knew Too Much

(Island) UK release date: 21 September 2009

At a time when Mika’s multi-platinum peers (David Gray, Coldplay, James Morrison) are frequently castigated for their beige-hued blandness, one might expect Mika’s idiosyncrasies (looks funny, sings funny) to be greeted with at least a modicum of grudging respect from the indie press.

But apparently not. It’s fair to say that, much like Katie Price, Mika has his knockers. A cursory search of Mika-related pages on Facebook reveals a groundswell of animosity towards him. These anti-Mika pages encompass the straightforwardly negative (Mika Is Just Shit, Mika Can Fuck Off, We Hate Mika), those that threaten physical violence against the singer (Let’s All Kill Mika, Somebody Should Shoot Mika, Mutilate Mika (?!)) and one vaguely militaristic-sounding group: The Anti-Mika Movement. There’s even a page entitled – seemingly without irony – Mika Encourages Obesity, presumably in response to his ‘don’t worry chubsters, Mika still loves ya’ single Big Girl (You Are Beautiful).

Mika’s fans might be less vociferous than his supporters, but they come in droves. His debut, Life In Cartoon Motion, sold six million copies. He’s won a Brit and been nominated for a Grammy and a Novello. He even has a credible musician fan, namely Michael Stipe, who has described Mika as “a great songwriter”.

Opening track and lead-off single We Are Golden is unlikely to change the detractors’ opinions. Ostensibly an anthem for outsiders (“Who gives a damn about the family you come from / No giving up when you’re young and you want some” etc), it deploys every trick in the Mika box: backing vocals courtesy of a bunch of kids seemingly on a sugar rush, spoken word bits issued in a weird Mockney accent, a Queen-style, multi-tracked vocal breakdown during the middle eight and, of course, the singer’s eye-watering falsetto. It’s really quite irritating but it is also, crucially, catchy as hell.

Like its predecessor, The Boy Who Knew Too Much is an eclectic work, lurching between exuberant pop, vaudevillian knees-ups, disco and sombre ballads. Mika would probably describe the album as ‘kaleidoscopic’, but it can come across as scattershot and unfocused.

With his elastic vocal range, Mika always seemed more suited to straight-up dance music, something which was borne out by the likes of Relax (Take It Easy) on his debut. The only track here that could be described as disco is Rain, a downbeat number whose chorus consists of a melodramatic crescendo of high-pitched whoops. Elsewhere, Mika indulges his penchant for oompah on Dr John and Toy Boy, while Blue Eyes is less a song than an amalgam of every afro-influenced pop song ever written, the most obvious influence being Paul Simon‘s You Can Call Me Al.

The album does, however, feature three unqualified successes. Not coincidentally, they arrive when Mika abandons the ingratiating eagerness to please he confessed to on calling card single Grace Kelly.

I See You is an affecting, string-enhanced piano ballad – it’s by no means innovative, but its sturdy melody is the type that any middlebrow singer-songwriter would kill for. One Foot Boy is the most successful of the uptempo tracks and is strong enough even to survive its potentially de-railing opening line: “What’s the matter with going places? / Take that gross look off your faces”. The glitch-pop intro recalls The Postal Service – probably not what its makers intended, but pleasing nonetheless.

Best of all is By The Time, a slow-tempo number on which Mika downs his usual musical tools in favour of some lovely, circling harmonies and understated electronics. If it appeared on a more credible artist’s album it would be praised to the heavens. As it turns out, it’s track nine on the new Mika album and it probably won’t be released as a single.

Ultimately, as the follow-up to a mega-selling debut album, The Boy Who Knew Too Much’s consistent hookiness means it can only be considered a success. Also, as a bonus, it doesn’t contain anything as offensive as Big Girl (You Are Beautiful). In addition, there are hints that Mika could make a genuinely interesting record if continuing success ushers him into the comfort zone that would allow him to do so.

Despite all this, Mika haters can rest easy: you will loathe this album.

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More on Mika
Mika – The Origin Of Love
Mika – The Boy Who Knew Too Much
Mika @ Somerset House, London
Mika @ Barfly, Birmingham
Mika – Life In Cartoon Motion