This review is by our immensely talented Guest Blogger Sarah Hamilton
Mika is now on to his fourth album to date, bursting onto the pop scene back in 2007 with his huge breakthrough debut ‘Life in Cartoon Motion‘ which spawned the hits ‘Grace Kelly‘ and my favourite ‘Relax, Take it Easy‘. Since his introduction into the music world, Mika has obviously matured both through his work and his outlook on life. Now in his thirties, he has orchestrated a diversity of experiences through TV programs (The Voice Italy and France) and also fashion collaborations with the fashion house Valentino. Musically, for this album, I hoped this turn into a new decade will have brought a sense of understanding of what he wanted to present to the world, unlike predecessor ‘The Origin of Love’ which saw him torn between two music styles – the outright pop of ‘Step with Me‘ alongside more serious lyrically driven songs such as ‘Heroes‘. I wouldn’t call that album a misfire but looking back on it, I wouldn’t describe it as cohesive. Instead, a reflection of a lack of conviction/confidence into which direction he wanted to move in.
As an opener ‘Talk about You‘ slots into the pop category, lyrically describing the effort of an all-encompassing crush (you’re the only one I talk about, a million faces but all I’m seeing is you). It is happy and upbeat but unfortunately not memorable. Some lovely piano sections don’t save this track from just being am average opener.
’All She Wants‘ opens with a bit more gusto and some interesting production with layered vocals and hand clapping. The song reflects on Mika’s relationship with his Mother and even a little bit of guilt around not being able to provide what his mother wanted from him. Mika sings about his mother ‘wanting a son with a wife and a big living room’ alongside even wanting another son. Much more enjoyable than ‘Talk About You‘, it is a pleasant listen with some great falsetto moments and lyrically it opens a discussion around moving into a more modern society where mothers and sons might have to have discussions around homosexuality and about what that means for their relationship from a long-term perspective.
Mika’s next song is beautiful. ‘Last Party‘, which from the title you might expect to be an uptempo song turns out to be a haunting ballad about ‘bad news coming’ and the end of the world. Mika sings about ‘if we are all gonna die then lets party’ but in an understandably melancholy style. The production is understated until the last third of the song when the pace picks up and some violins really ramp up the ‘tension’ of the song before it softly finishes with the words ‘it was the best time we ever had‘. My only slight criticism would be the placing of this track, it didn’t feel like it should sit after ‘All She Wants’ in terms of the structure and flow of the album.
‘Good Guys‘ on first listen makes me chuckle with the lyric ‘where have all the gays guys gone‘ as I thought it was going to be a lament on Mika’s inability to find a suitable partner for himself. However, on subsequent listens, I believe he is trying to mourn the fact that icons that he looked up-to when he was growing up such as Bowie and Warhol who were bold and expressed themselves freely seem to have disappeared in our current society. The lyrics turn into a broader ‘where have all the good guys gone’ – a reflection on current pop culture rather than a track about not being able to find a fella! I enjoyed this track and think you could either take it as a bit of fun or a reflection that Mika feels he has lost someone in ‘entertainment’ to look up-to and admire.
“Oh Girl You’ve the Devil” is a single choice for me, straying into Scissor Sisters territory mixed in with a some Pharrell elements. It would do well especially in ‘Euro pop’ territories. Again, we have some autobiographical elements about his upbringing in a Catholic school and being told ‘boy you’re the devil.’ I love the use of the guest vocalists on this album and after thinking that female vocalists compliment Mika’s voice more I am swayed by the male singer on this track and his almost bass like contributions. A funky driven track with a sense of fun and being able to look back and laugh.
The title track ‘No Place in Heaven‘ really touched me. Mika’s religious upbringing versus how he felt seems to be a recurring exploration point in this album and he has certainly got some great thoughtful lyrics from exploring his past. Within this song, Mika sings directly to his ‘Father/God figure’ stating ‘I’m down on my knees I’m begging you please…won’t you open the doors for me‘ alongside the repeating lyric ‘there’s no place in heaven for someone like me‘. There is a lot lyrically to listen to and appreciate in this track ‘I was a freak since I was 7‘ coupled with his experiences of losing connection to his faith and having to hide his loves. It really made me think about all the conflicting emotions he and others must feel being told that one way of living is wrong and is a ‘sin’ and at the same time thinking that that sinner might actually be you. Pretty deep stuff if you want to delve into it, alternatively if you don’t want to think too deeply it’s actually a semi upbeat song which is actually easy to pick up and sing along to.
‘Staring at the Sun‘ is a broader radio-friendly song that strays into a more chilled dance-orientated production. I did enjoy this song but felt it could have been given to any dance orientated act such as Avicii or Duke Dumont and it wouldn’t have sounded that different. I think it was a less Mika-centric track and gets lost in all the brilliant lyrics contained in the rest of the album. I hope this doesn’t get a single treatment but I fear the record company might feel it’s a safe release.
Mika does do a good ballad doesn’t he? I am not normally a fan of the pop ballad but he manages to make songs such as ‘Hurts‘ resonate into the soul. Lyrically I would call this a ‘breakup’ song but not in a traditional way because of Mika’s way with words. Lyrics about ‘sparks, fire and Gods’ elevate this song to proving Mika’s own point that words are very powerful and are never ‘just words’. Very moving but again surprisingly a really easy listen. It has a lovely gentle flow about it especially with the simple piano underlying the track. – really good stuff!
‘Good Wife‘ took me a little bit by surprise but in a good way. It is a total departure from the previous track but one that works unlike the transition between ‘All She Wants‘ and ‘Last Party‘, the song in parts reminded me of a Lion King track ‘I Just Can’t Wait to be King‘ – I know that sounds a bit odd but listen to the production between the two and there are definitely similarities. The song comes in with a blast and ends in the same way. Lyrically it’s about a devastated husband and unrequited love but I think this track is best listened to with a lighter touch.
Penultimate track ‘Rio‘ follows on nicely from ‘Good Wife’ in that it is a more frivolous playful track (don’t shoot the messenger but I can see this being performed on Glee!). It is a track about leaving everything behind and flying off to somewhere ‘maybe Rio’ to shed your skin and find yourself. It’s a joy to listen to and put a smile on my face at the thought of getting up one day and just heading anywhere on holiday. It is reminiscent of early Elton John track in places.
I really am struggling with the last track on this album, ‘Ordinary Man’. Upon my initial listens I really didn’t like it and unfortunately I don’t think I will ever connect to this song fully. On further listens I could understand the narrative more. Mika’s worries about perhaps ‘not being special’ but then realising that he was only an ‘ordinary person’ to that one specific individual and the conclusion that this relationship wasn’t doing him any good. I think I am always underwhelmed by this track. There are better examples of song-writing and ballads on this album and this one pales compared to some of the more upbeat tracks. It seems a shame to end the review on this note because overall I think it’s a really good album demonstrating a much more cohesive understanding from a singer-songwriter who seems to be getting more comfortable and bolder in his own skin as time passes.
STAR RATING: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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