Mika: The Boy Who Knew Too Much

RIYL: Queen, George Michael, Harry Nilsson

As anyone who’s ever tried to tell a story to a room full of people can tell you, it’s exceedingly difficult to entertain even one person, let alone several million – which is part of why it’s always so disappointing to see successful entertainers try and get serious on us. From Bill Murray in “The Razor’s Edge” to George Michael with Listen Without Prejudice, Volume One, artists are forever trying to show us that they can do more than make us laugh and/or dance – usually with disappointing results. Let’s give Mika credit, then, for not forgetting what moved six million copies of his 2007 debut, Life in Cartoon Motion – namely, the same gleefully layered Technicolor pop that forms the basis of its follow-up, The Boy Who Knew Too Much.

Mika makes no bones about sticking close to his roots, so to speak; as soon as you lay eyes on Boy’s artwork, which looks – at a glance, anyway – awfully similar to Cartoon Motion’s, you’ll know this isn’t going to be a major departure. In fact, it’s really just more of everything: more bright pop hooks, more production, and more wonderfully over-the-top arrangements. It takes less than a full minute before Mika’s leading what sounds like a cast of hundreds in a sing-along chant of “We are not what you think we are! We are golden!” and it’s off to the races from there, in one endless falsetto loop-de-loop of swirling harmonies, pounding pianos, and instantly memorable melodies.

Of course, it also bears mentioning that they’re fairly derivative; at his best, Mika suggests nothing so much as Queen’s greatest hits and Faith-era George Michael thrown together in a blender and pureed to a sweet, frothy consistency, with a few 21st-century production gewgaws sprinkled in for extra texture. It’s certainly nothing you haven’t heard before, in other words – but on the other hand, few artists who attempt this kind of pop fetishism do it as well as Mika; The Boy Who Knew Too Much, like Life in Cartoon Motion, feels more like an extension of his influences’ aesthetics than a hollow homage. After listening to an album this ridiculously fun, it’s natural to brace yourself for the bad aftertaste, but Mika does such a good job of synthesizing his personal songwriting perspective with these familiar ingredients that the hangover never comes.

There really aren’t any bad tracks here, although Mika is at his best when he’s doing his upbeat dance between baroque brilliance and utter ridiculousness; the album’s more sedate songs might have a deeper meaning, but they aren’t nearly as much fun. The pick of the litter is unquestionably “Touches You,” which sounds – in the best possible way – like it could have been a Faith B-side. With its driving piano, whomping synth bass, oceans of dovetailing background vocals, and a melody that sounds like it was as much fun to write as it is to play at full volume, it neatly encapsulates everything that’s great about Mika – and pretty much everything that works in modern pop music, for that matter – in a tidy 3:20. Let’s hope he never forgets it. (Universal/Casablanca 2009)

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