There is only so much saccharine dance-floor pop one can take, even if it comes from a highly gifted performer.
Mika's The Origin of Love
One of the catchier songs on Mika's third album is called Overrated, which is a curious sentiment to send spinning around the heads of your listeners. He may be inviting ridicule there, but then the Beirut-born singer probably feels Teflon-coated against critical barbs these days, having sold eight million records while remaining the dictionary-defined antithesis of cool.
Mika – aka Michael Penniman – burst into the global charts with such a flamboyant splash in 2007 that a backlash was probably inevitable. The wild hair, colourful outfits and high-pitched vocals – all noticeably toned down for this release – proved widely off-putting, but he commands rather more respect within the industry. Madonna reworked one of his songs for her recent album, MDNA, not that the PR-aware legend chose to publicise it. "She certainly wasn't asking for my opinion," admitted the sanguine singer.
But he has managed to entice a couple of notable names on to this album, having travelled the world tracking down potential contributors. The most significant acquisition is Nick Littlemore from Empire of the Sun, the Australian duo who have taken high-pitched pop to more credible peaks; Littlemore crops up regularly in the credits here, as writer or producer. The dance act Benny Benassi is also on board, co-authoring the euphoric club anthem Stardust, but the eye-popping presence is the US soul-rap superstar Pharrell Williams.
His much-trumpeted appearance is disappointingly brief. In truth, it is less an alchemic meeting of diverse musical minds and more a couple of sentences shoehorned into the big single, Celebrate. That track, a simple but effective slice of Daft Punk-style disco-house, is left until last, indicating a misplaced confidence in the rest of the material. Several pre-release interviews suggested that Mika would adopt a more mature tone on this record. But despite the title, The Origin of Love is no grown-up ballad fest but a near-exhausting onslaught of upbeat dance-floor pop.
There are moodier moments, such as the funky title track, where he swaps the squeals for a sultry, George Michael whisper. But elsewhere the melodies often sound disconcertingly like themes from children's TV shows, all jaunty chords and you-can-do-it lyrics. Popular, a duet with the US vocalist Priscilla Renea, would work rather well on Sesame Street, warbled by a couple of furry puppets.
Is Mika overrated? Far from it. But this gifted performer will struggle to change perceptions while still pumping out such a saccharine strain of fizzy pop.