Mraz’s easy on the ear material has progressed subtly, without upsetting day-one devotees.
Mike Diver 2012-05-11
Jason Mraz is a cheery looking chap. You’d be too, if your previous albums collected enough platinum discs to keep Chilean miners in fresh chupallas until the sun swells red and devours us all. But his glass-half-full demeanour doesn’t always translate on studio releases, which perhaps explains the extensive live catalogue he’s already built up.
This fourth set, arriving four years after his last (We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.), is unlikely to convince newcomers of his chart-conquering talents, despite representing discernable evolution. He pushes himself vocally, the strain occasionally (and satisfyingly) evident; but any soul is marked only in an understated manner. Tracks with below-the-surface emotion, like I Won’t Give Up, are robbed of opportunities to engage intimately by heavy-handed production better suited to pop-country juggernauts roaring out of Nashville.
Mraz is a fine, polished performer, and his songs don’t lack heart. But these simple arrangements would perhaps work better if they retained a little roughness. Little sticks in the memory, despite effortlessly accomplished wordplay peppering 5/6 and The World as I See It – Mraz isn’t short of a neat lyrical turn or two. Both are swelled by strings which feel like afterthought constituents in the grand scheme of each piece. More stitched into Mraz’s acoustic fabric is the brass accompanying The Freedom Song, the opener’s upbeat tone lending its trumpet and trombone bursts some sunshine synchronicity.
Having reached number two in the UK and USA, and gone one better in Canada, the commercial credentials of Love Is a Four Letter Word are indisputable. But for a listener who’s only been aware of Mraz by reputation, this is no instant-fix point of entry. It relies on past experiences, knowledge of what the artist is capable of rather than anything he delivers with consistency across these 12 songs. It represents progression on a career path that might’ve otherwise struck a cul-de-sac, and fans will acknowledge that. But a few stray fireworks amongst these controlled displays would have lent Mraz’s wide, optimistic horizons some additional colour and heat.