Greg White reviews Mika’s highly-anticipated new album, ‘The Origin of Love’.
Since early 2007, Mika has divided both fans and critics with his quirky brand of pop music and falsetto vocals. It’s been three years since Mika’s last album, The Boy Who Knew Too Much, and he now returns with his third offering, The Origin of Love. While the album has some great moments on it, much of it is tarnished by noisy production, terrible lyrics, and a lack of creative cohesion.
The album opens with the title track, which lifts its name from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. We’re immediately introduced to one of the records worst flaws: the obnoxiously distorted vocals. Throughout the chorus of ‘The Origin of Love’, Mika’s vocal harmonies have their tone and emotion electronically sucked out of them. This is a problem that occurs on several other tracks, leaving the listener without a tangible sense of the song. The production is all over the place and Mika’s usually skilled song-writing is ruined by inane lyrics.
Throughout the album, there are too many cringe-inducing moments for Mika to ever shed much light on what he feels The Origin of Love may be. ‘Popular’ samples music from the musical Wicked, and features a rap-off between Mika and Priscilla Renae. The results are a dire mess of what’s meant to be a goofy song about self-acceptance. Part of the spoken-word passage of the track sees Mika drop the word ‘faggot’. While obviously the context of the song is not one that’s intended to offend, it poses the question: is that word ever appropriate to use in a pop song? It’s incredibly jarring to hear it used on what’s supposed to be a silly ode about loving yourself.
Then there’s ‘Emily’, on which Mika assures: ‘are you stuck-up? / are you gay? / ’cause if you are / well that’s OK’ – even Lady Gaga hasn’t had the audacity to come right out and rhyme ‘gay’ with ‘OK’. Elsewhere, on ‘Love You When I’m Drunk’, Mika presents this gem of a chorus: ‘I only love you when / I only love you when / I only love you / only love you / only love you when I’m drunk’. Some of the tracks on the record are so hindered by their bad lyrics, no amount of vocal or production wizardry can help the listener stomach them.
Not all the material is bad here though, there’s enough good stuff to save the album from being a total write-off. The best song is the straight-forward and emotional, ‘Underwater’. It features a clear vocal delivery, gorgeous piano melodies, and is nicely punctuated by moderate drum and synth usage. On the following track, ‘Overrated’, Mika gets us on the dance floor with some energetic synths and an infectious chorus. ‘Step with Me’ is a slinky come-on track, laced with warm synths, guitar, and a purring, undistorted vocal. The first single ‘Celebrate’ sounds just as the title suggests; it’s a fun and upbeat dance track, however even this is marred for a while as Pharrell Williams mumbles his guest bridge for about thirty seconds. It’s a completely useless and annoying collaboration on an otherwise solid single.
Mika worked with some top-notch producers and songwriters here, such as Greg Wells, Dan Wilson, Nick Littlemore, Benny Benassi, and Klas Åhlund. The songs were recorded in studios in Montreal, Miami and Sweden across a period of almost two years. Such a wide range of producers and recording sessions must be partly to blame for the choppiness and inconsistency heard throughout the album. Ultimately though, the finger points at Mika for taking his music into territory that’s too strange and over-produced to be enjoyable or relatable. Mika is at his best when his music is focused on his song-writing and vocals, not when he’s trying to be Daft Punk.
Go Get It: ‘Underwater’ / ’Overrated’
Forget It: ‘Popular’ / ’Love You When I’m Drunk’