Life in Cartoon Motion is the debut album by Mika, a 24-year-old Lebanese American with a gift for crafting music that seems to mix the talents of Freddie Mercury, Paul McCartney, Lou Reed, David Bowie, George Michael, Prince and the Scissor Sisters into one very contemporary package.
The genre-defying result could best be described as Electropop meets Alternative Rock.
If this freshman effort is any gauge for future promise, Mika (pronounced MEE-kuh) could be for 2008 and afterward what Depeche Mode and The Cure were two decades ago – a semi-serious commentary on modern culture wrapped around a funky beat.
Grace Kelly [watch video]
The album’s first track is this delightful tune. The vocal and musical style is a quirky mixture of late 70s Queen and late 80s George Michael. The theatricality in presentation and repeating lyrical phrases betray Mika’s classical training and operatic study with famed Russian Opera coach Alla Ardakov.
Lollipop [watch video]
The song first appears to be a very thinly veiled reference to oral sex wrapped in a bubble-gum beat, once again sounds like the kind of music Queen would be creating in the 2000s. But upon listening more closely to the lyrics it’s about the trials and heartbreak lessons of young love. And the bridge and hook of the melody are infectious. The skill behind this song shows Mika’s roots writing jingles for Mentos commercials before he was snapped up by a record label.
In a cursory listen to this song, it feels like a mild pop ballad that could have felt at home on any turn-of-the-century Boy Band album. But the chord progressions and complicated key changes belie an artistry that rises above that generic wasteland of cookie-cutter crap of a few years ago. Nonetheless, it along with “Stuck in the Middle ” are the weakest tracks on the collection.
Love Today [watch video]
A catchy tune that feels like what the lovechild of Prince’s Paisley Park and Andy Warhol’s Factory would sound like.
Relax (Take it Easy) [watch video]
The most dance-club friendly of the tunes on this album. I challenge anyone to listen to this song and not have the chorus, “Relax, Take it Easy” re-playing in their head for a few hours. If the rest of this album was junk (and it’s not) – this song alone would make Mika worth noting.
Here, Mika seamlessly moves from the clubby beat of “Relax” into an authentic Alternative Rock sound without losing any of the catchy melodic momentum of the previous tracks. For a first-time listener of this album, by the time you get to this track on the album, you realize that Mika is a huge talent.
Any Other World
This song starts out with a simplistic minimalism that hearkens an early David Bowie without the depressing stark nihilism of the 1970s. It quickly transcends the Bowie-esque flavor and evolves into a wry commentary of an untrusting and jaded soul.
Billy Brown [watch video]
Ever wonder what it would have been like if a Sgt. Pepper-era tune written by The Beatles resulted in a catchy little pop ditty about a man who cheats on his wife – with another man? That’s what this song is. Mika explores and mocks the life of a closet case and the result is a quaint type of commentary. It is obvious that this Gen-Y rocker views societal sexual taboos surrounding homosexuality as odd and outdated.
Big Girl (You Are Beautiful) [watch video]
This addictive dance song feels like a cross between Lou Reed and Queen. It is a paen to plus-sized women. But it’s unclear whether Mika is celebrating the life of chubby chasers – or if he is singing on behalf of his overweight friends to potential mates. In the end it doesn’t matter – as it is a celebration of women with “curves in all the right places.”
Stuck in the Middle
This track in style would be at home on any Scissor Sisters album. A lament to being the middle child and dealing with parental disapproval of one’s life. With the hook of the chorus being memorable and paired with jazzy elements, the song is saved from what could have been a fate as a very weak track.
Every good album needs a breakup ballad full of self-affirming anger. This effort is successful in delving into original territory with an age-old situation.
Happy Ending [watch video]
Of course the last track would have to be this one by the title alone. It also makes a great companion piece to “Erase” as it deals with the acceptance of life after love has ended and the acknowledgement of the authenticity of past affection and the impossibility of a future together in a doomed relationship. If every good album needs a good self-affirming break up song, well guess what, this one has two. Oddly, “Happy Ending” has a happy ending, albeit is bittersweet celebration. Like a jazz band at a New Orleans funeral it starts out as a dirge of despair and ends with an upbeat message – a celebration of the love that was before things turned bad with acceptance of the future.
This album also includes the beautifully depressing hidden track, “Over My Shoulder.”