Review Summary: 30 year old pop-singer's reliance on his boyish appeal is growing thin. Still, if it works, run with it.
Sometimes known as the geek in the pink, Jason Mraz is instead an artist who works in shades of grey. Not so much a metaphor for his music's mood, but rather its aesthetic; Mraz has always floated between labels, and for better or worse, the separation between sides has come to define him. At times, Mraz echoes shades of that choir boy everybody made fun of, but who was adored by adults and teachers who thought he was ‘charming'. Sometimes, Mraz lulls about with shades of the alt-bore movement, musically falling somewhere between Jack Johnson and John Mayer. Mraz's music is often interspersed with his palpable quirkiness, comes most often in the form of uninvited, awkward cracker-rapping, but occasionally shows its face with some occasionally well placed scatting. It is this identity crisis that defines him and, for the most, hurts him. We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things
does its best to streamline Mraz's multi-faceted pop approach, and for the most it succeeds. But as always, it's worth looking into.
Blending upstrokes and two-tone key-work, lead-single "I'm Yours" blends a Jack Johnson-esque island vibe with Mraz's competent vocal delivery. When his voice swallows to a low creak it works; when he scats, it's surprisingly both fun and endearing. "Lucky", a duet featuring MySpace stalwart Colbie Caillat, is an equally joyful composition, relying almost entirely on the pleasing-if-cornballish harmonies. If "I'm Yours" is for the campfire, "Lucky" is the song you'd hear during a romantic-but-bouncy stroll down the sand. "Butterfly" tosses horns into the mix for a disco-funk tune that's screams Beegees just as hard as it does Timberlake. His boyish flavour does at times feel a little at odds with the song's surprisingly sexual nature but he detours awkward moments with yet a bout of uninvited scatting. We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things
is at its best when it's having fun, because it makes it easy to gloss over Mraz's sometimes goofy, often forced word-play.
While he luckily limits the juvenile rapping that plagued his first two albums, it is important to note that he's just 70 years short of a century and his sometimes childish delivery threatens to hinder the fact that he can really carry a tune. But the more you look into this, the more confusing it gets. The more I wish he'd grow up, the less I want to listen to him. "Love For A Child", a grown-up sounding song about divorce sang from a child's point of view, highlights this paradox. "Details In The Fabric" is an acoustic snoozer featuring James Morrison's horribly underwhelming presence. The song goes nowhere, and it's this song more than others that make me wish he'd scat, rap…anything
to make it interesting. It's not that I want to hear him goof around, it's that goofing around is what he does. The glaring fault with this album is the very same separation I mentioned earlier, the paradoxical nature of being a 30 year old kid never sure of what side he should show.
In the end, We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things
is a misleadingly solid pop outing. Jason Mraz will charm you, hook you and make you uncomfortable–often in the same song. The album is harmless fun, and the funky, groovy, hook-dominated tracks are impossible to hate. Unlike his past outings, Mraz limits his many faces on each song, making it easier to skip what you can't take and focus on what you like. We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things is for those who can't decide if they want Timberlake, Elton, Mayer or Johnson. The album provides a bit of everything the pop world has to offer while perfecting nothing. Like he says on the vocally acrobatic (but mostly gag-inducing) "The Dynamo Of Volition", Jason is "the best definition of good intention". While his boyish charm is wearing thin, it can never cease to exist, for regardless of its effectiveness, it remains the sole distinguisher and thus the only reason he's still on the right side of success.