Too schizophrenic of design to successfully sell its positives.
Mike Diver 2009
While it may come as a surprise to those blinkered to the machinations of the music industry, Mika’s ascent to superstardom around the time of his debut album, 2007’s Life in Cartoon Motion, wasn’t exactly smooth.
A spread of negative reviews for the Grace Kelly-spawning long-player did nothing to disrupt its commercial success. But Mika, as a musician who writes his own material, must surely have taken a few less-than-favourable assessments to heart – if not, it would only support the suggestion that his quirk-laden fare can’t mean much to the man himself.
So expectations for this follow-up incorporate hope that Mika has developed his sound following so much exposure, so many new experiences and a much bigger budget to play with. And, certainly, The Boy Who Knew Too Much is bolder of arrangement than its predecessor – sometimes haphazardly, and sporadically disastrously, but never boringly. Mika’s classical background can lead him down cluttered compositional avenues, but when he turns down the contrast between structural elements, the results are hugely enjoyable.
Both I See You and By the Time are pretty arrangements that find Mika’s occasionally questionable vocals complementing elegant piano lines well – the former is particularly striking in its accomplished articulating of melancholy, with no clunky couplet tripping over its sparely employed strings. It must surely be a single. In fact, it could very well be Mika’s finest moment yet.
Closer Pick Up Off the Floor rather undoes the good work of the aforementioned brace by coming over indecently theatrical, but it’s the only other track here that aims for the heart rather than a temporary embrace for a silly, drive-time sing-along. The lyrical drivel of lead single We Are Golden, Blame it on the Girls and Good Gone Girl is, sadly, fuel for the fires burning in the bellies of Mika’s fiercest critics, and salvation via the George Michael-echoing Touches You arrives as too little, too late. Mika needs to find a balance between the polar musical worlds he’s so intent on occupying, between mature sensitivity and worrying puerility.
Because, until then, his indulgences will always overshadow songs that are really quite beautiful. A disaster it’s not, then, but The Boy… is sure to attract no little vitriol from other corners of the music press, opinions swayed by its schizophrenic nature.