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.

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Muse: The Resistance

Muse has always been careful to balance their lyrical paranoia with a vast arsenal of sonic weaponry, turning the negativity of songs like “Map of the Problematique” and “Stockholm Syndrome” into lighter-waving anthems for the dance floor or the mosh pit. They came close to tipping the balance on 2006’s Black Holes and Revelations – surprise, singer and lyricist Matthew Bellamy was angry about the Iraq War – but fortunately for them they had cooked up their best batch of songs to go with those anti-war tirades and ‘die with your boots on’ battle cries. The album became the band’s first US Top Ten hit and vaulted the British trio into the rock’s upper echelon. If you need more proof of the band’s growing status among rock aficionados, look no further than the inclusion of Bellamy as an unlockable guitarist in “Guitar Hero 5.”

After a hellacious tour schedule – which produced the stopgap live album H.A.A.R.P. – the band finally settled down long enough to enter the studio and prepare for the follow-up album. It was here that they decided to do what no prog band should ever be allowed to do: produce the album themselves. Any band as musically gifted as Muse needs an outside voice of reason, someone to reign them in when they’re tempted to go even more over the top than they already go. More importantly, the band could have used someone to tell them that they’re repeating themselves far too frequently. Granted, the main musical thrust behind The Resistance may be unique in that this album is more symphonic than their previous efforts, but several of these songs echo the band’s earlier work, sometimes lazily so.

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