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Pop Phenom Channels Mercury


Cautionary Wife
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THE BADGER HERALD

by Sarah Probst

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

 

Ask almost anyone about Queen’s iconic lead singer Freddie Mercury, and you’ll get the same response: The man was a god. His piercing vocals, theatrical sensibility and black-and-white checkered unitard are the stuff of legend. Even now, 15 years after his death, no artist has been able to fill Mercury’s signature onesie  hypothetically or otherwise  though many have tried.

 

With a similarly androgynous personality and an even more similar vocal range, U.K. phenom Mika comes close, but also achieves his own personality while adding his name to this seemingly unending list of Freddie admirers.

 

On his new album, Life in Cartoon Motion, Mika clearly vocalizes his admiration for Freddie. The newcomer’s piercing yet never shrill soprano flights and consistently sweet tenor, both reminiscent of the musical legend, find their way onto each and every track of this bubbly pop album. Even his lyrics bear reference to the late and great musical genius.

 

The similarities between the two artists continue beyond the vocals. Mika plays appropriately epic piano in the style of Mercury and makes frequent use of a backup symphony and studio wizardry to create Queen-style majesty. By throwing in elements of techno, southern gospel and ’80s Brit pop, Mika makes his first album one unforgettable pop delight.

 

Already garnering success on MTV and U.K. airwaves, dance pop is clearly what this up-and-comer does best. “Grace Kelly†immediately opens the album with those signature Freddie vocals, but with a new spin a la Mika’s uniquely precise lyrical style and melodies. Accompanied by a merrily romping rhythm section, Mika sings, “I try to be like Grace Kelly/ But all her looks were too sad/ So I try a little Freddie/ I’ve gone identity mad!†creating the most unforgettable self-image anthem of 2007.

 

And, truly, it’s virtually impossible to avoid this artist’s infectious pop beats. If you’ve watched or merely flipped through MTV in the last three months, chances are you’ve heard snippets of Mika’s single “Love Today.†Easily recognized by its chorus (You know  "Everybody’s gonna love today/ Love today/ Love todayâ€Â), this Scissor Sisters-inspired track begins with Mika’s driving, pounding piano work. His upper-register wail, coupled with jangling guitar work and the slightest bit of synthesization, make this disco-tinged tune the perfect dance track.

 

For those who may not adore Mr. Mercury  if they exist  Mika departs from his main influences and makes additional references to other pop acts throughout the disc. “Lollipop†channels the sugary-sweet pop confections of the Jackson 5 with its children’s chorus and bouncy keyboard work. The sly artist, however, incorporates bits of New Orleans jazz into its schoolyard chant, along with a few innuendos amidst the childlike vocal lines. The lyric “Suckin’ too hard on your lollipop/ Love’s gonna get you down†is a little too risqué for the real Jackson 5 but perfect for this track. The technofied “Relax, Take It Easy†also looks to the past, citing the chorus instrumentation of “(I Just) Died in Your Arms†by ’80s Brit pop quartet Cutting Crew.

 

Recounting the story of a man who leaves his wife for a gay lover, the tale “Billy Brown†also brings Mercury’s outrageous antics to mind. On the intro and verses of this track, Mika’s mellow tenor again channels the late and great singer over a bouncing piano accompaniment. The choruses, however, see a shift to a heavy Beatles influence with the inclusion of tubas and trumpets. Not only are the lyrics witty, they also reveal a poignant story amid the fanciful instrumentation.

 

Of course, an album cannot rely on dance tracks alone, and understanding this, Mika slows down the tempo for several of songs. Abandoning his keyboard in favor of a backup symphony, “Any Other World†features Mika’s soaring vocals as he explores his soul: “I try to live alone/ But human is so lonely/ So human as I am/ I had to give up my defenses,†the solemn singer states. The mediocre “My Interpretation,†on the other hand, strives for understanding between the dance tracks but results in a contrived attempt at a Train-like pop ballad.

 

In the final hidden track “Over My Shoulder,†Mika returns to form with hollow piano work, moaning vocals and a haunting harmonic dissonance that all combine to sound like a requiem.

 

Currently, “Grace Kelly†is holding the No. 1 spot on the U.K. charts for the fifth week in a row. Just like Freddie Mercury, everybody seems to love Mika.

 

Grade: 4 out of 5

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CW.

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