Review Summary: Life In Cartoon Motion falls where most pop albums do- it oozes character but fails to translate it into something substantial
It’s not often you can sense an actual cultural void scrambling to fill itself- correction
, it’s not often I
can sense a cultural void of any sort- so it’s been interesting observing the massive success of New York’s Scissor Sisters in the UK and Ireland while they remain little more than cult icons in their home country. The world’s largest supermarket chain Wal-Mart has even refused to stock the group’s albums on account of their “course language” (translation: it would be tough to purge entire songs of homosexual imagery,) another unfortunate public relations disaster for a country that receives far more flack from college-age folk than it deserves.
But the British are a proud people and, however much they love America, they love themselves even more and, for almost three years now, a section of the British public has been all but screaming out for a home-grown version of the glitzy disco-rockers to call their own. Panic turned to desperation in 2006 as consumers ignored just about everything about androgynous London rockers The Feeling to make them radio’s most played band that year, but spam is no substitute for a good strip of bacon. As luck would have it, Londoner, albeit Lebanon-born, Mika has emerged from nowhere (London) to put things to rights with the massive single ‘Grace Kelly,’ which graces (I know) the #1 spot in the Irish and UK singles chart at the time of writing. A stunning display of operatic rock matched with a genuinely virtuosic vocal performance, the track sees its singer intertwine near-perfect imitations of Freddie Mercury, George Michael and Robbie Williams seamlessly inside eight bars before setting off on an ascending pre-chorus pattern that echoes Kate Bush’s classic ‘Wuthering Heights.’
Mika’s debut record, Life In Cartoon Motion
, can neatly be categorised alongside the Scissor Sisters; the two share very similar influences in glam rock, disco and funk, however Mika’s sound is made slightly more current by virtue of his location. Situated in the nation’s capital, the alternative hip-hop sounds of the city seem to have rubbed off on him, as demonstrated by ‘Lollipop,’ which apes the melody of Lily Allen’s ‘LDN,’ and part of the lyrical theme to boot, while lead single ‘Relax, Take It Easy’ is reminiscent of the apathetic synth-pop of Hot Chip.
At its best, Life In Cartoon Motion
is an expert amalgamation of a number of pop stylings from past and present; at worst, Life In Cartoon Motion
is, well, exactly the same thing. Very little of the album could easily be characterised as original- each track sees Mika either imitate a certain vocalist or borrow a melody from a certain song. In a similar way to ‘90s rockers Jellyfish, when it hits, it hits hard and when it misses, it hits an exposed nerve and requires extensive therapy. It’s this factor that’s led to the album dividing critics so wildly.
‘Billy Brown’ borrows the piano melody from The Monkees’ ‘Daydream Believer’ and Paul McCartney’s vocal melody from ‘Penny Lane’ and tells the story of a man, married with children, whose life is turned upside down when he falls in love with another man, proclaiming him “another victim of the times.” The lyrics are simple and straightforward, but vague enough to tell a story without taking away the listener’s opportunity to imagine and ending. ‘Grace Kelly’ houses a similarly basic lyric, this time a riposte to a label head who’d rejected him because he refused to re-invent himself as another James Blunt/James Morrison clone, and morphs semi-intentionally into a projection against society as a whole, exclaiming “why don’t you like me, why don’t you like yourself" Should I bend over" Should I look older just to be put on the shelf"” while basking in the implied irony of Ms. Kelly’s sampled quote: “getting angry doesn’t solve anything”
The massive dip in quality towards the end, including the progressive worsening through closing, bonus and hidden tracks, is disappointing, considering how well the album begins. As masterfully as tracks like ‘Grace Kelly’ and ‘Love Today’ acknowledge their influences without any pretensions of originality beyond the inherent personality of the singer, ‘Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)’ falls at every hurdle, knowingly parodying Queen’s ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ and Older
-era George Michael but is melodically weak in comparison.
Any number of the album’s tracks come across as potential singles, but that’s without making the all-important distinction between “good singles” and “successful singles.” ‘Lollipop’ borrows much from the chorus of ‘LDN,’ but it’s from Gwen Stefani’s ‘Hollaback Girl’ that the bulk of the song takes its cue and, to put it bluntly, Gwen’s already milked that beat for all that it’s worth and more besides. ‘Any Other World’ amd ‘My Interpretation’ each contain rather unsubtle imitations of James Blunt’s vocal style and, though quite well-written, fail to overcome the not inconsiderable hurdle of sounding like James Blunt, while ‘Relax, Take It Easy’ casts its net somewhere between Music
-era Madonna and Jimmy Somerville and winds up neither catchy enough to become a pop single or interesting enough to become a dancefloor classic.
Life In Cartoon Motion
at first displays all the hallmarks of a great pop album- it takes influence from all the best artists and isn’t averse to pilfering a melody or two- however, like many pop albums, it oozes character but fails to translate it into something substantial. Still, if an album was ever worth buying for one song, Life In Cartoon Motion
would be it. And, if ‘Grace Kelly’ is anything to go by, Mika will become a very rich man in a short space of time.