Sound — 9
I am grateful that I review albums for UG. I have been given the musical equivalent of the yellow brick road. At the end of it is the Emerald City, which in context is some sort of musical nirvana. But to reach the Emerald City, which will never realistically happen, I must follow the yellow brick road wherever it goes. Dorothy's yellow brick road took her from the Scarecrow's perch, to the Cowardly Lion's fearsome jungle, the poppy fields, and of course the Wicked Witch's castle. As Dorothy had to traverse diverse lands to reach her destination, I am afforded the privilege of being able to discover new bands and genres in search of mine. I have been able to survey odd and different genres, from shoegazing to sludge metal, with hopefully many more to come.
I have come to appreciate the niche bands and niche sounds of the world as a testament to the fact that the radio is not the be-all and end-all of today's good music. But it's nice every once in a while to be reminded of home, where my musical journey started, and to what kind of music I would hear on an everyday basis if not for UG. Jason Mraz's new album draws me back into the normalcy of mainstream music. Not the vain, overproduced "work" of Lady Gaga or Miley Cyrus that always seems to take the charts by storm. I am talking about the music playing in little cafés, elevators, and stores. I am talking about easy listening music.
The minute I turn on "Yes!," I feel closer to reality. What I mean by "reality" is that I am brought back to an observation, one that I continually feel the need to remind myself of as I try to listen to, play, and write music: musicians often become so ingratiated in their music that they end up studying increasingly complex, off the map music while in the process forgetting why they started studying it in the first place.
Getting back to this album, all aspects of it are tame and relaxed. It is almost too easy to sink into the album and just relax. It feels like walking into a hot tub; the new environment is slightly apprehensive at first, but soon enough you just want to keep going until you are all the way in; eventually you can just sit and let go.
This album is, at its core, a collection of simple, singer-songwriter type tunes. The words are easy to understand. Most of the guitar work is comprised of cute, little acoustic parts, maybe intermingled with some country sounding electric tones when necessary. The drums, when present, are light and subservient to the guitar/vocal melodies. Harmonies, both vocally and otherwise, are included in all the right places and never get overbearing. During some of the songs, there are mini-crescendos that add a touch of dynamics. From a dynamics standpoint in general, the album is varied enough that it does not feel repetitive. Everything just seems to serve its purpose well and nothing sits in the mix in excess. None of the songs seem out of place and none of the songs are overtly weak. Overall, this is a very well managed album.
Lyrics — 8
Oftentimes I feel the need to criticize vocals that adhere too close to the mainstream without venturing down new and exciting paths, either vocally or lyrically. With this album, Jason Mraz sounds as mainstream and as regular as is possible. And I don't know why, but for some reason, with him, it works. Mraz does not appear to put any strain on his voice, nor does he appear to deviate far from his laid-back tone at all throughout the album. He certainly doesn't try too hard, yet it works. The best reason I can come up with as to why his voice works is that it fits well within the context of his lyrics, arrangements, dynamics, and choice of instruments.
Lyrically, Jason Mraz is bland. He sings of hard times, girls, breakups... the regular pop singer shtick. But, above all, like everything else, these lyrics make Mraz's topics brilliantly simple; it is pretty easy to understand the underlying theme of each song. Again, I would usually frown upon such overused, often uninteresting lyrical topics. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, he makes it work.
Overall Impression — 7
I guess that is the operative phrase for this album: "he makes it work." With this album, Jason Mraz did not write the best album ever written, not even the best album he has ever written. But it seems, at least to me, that he knows what he is writing for, easy listening radio, and that he succeeds. He succeeds not just in writing a radio friendly album, but also in creating a pleasant listening experience all around.
This isn't exactly the album to crank on ten after forging through a Metallica marathon or when trying to be inspired or have your heart touched or anything substantive really. But then again, it is not trying to be.
If I need music subtle enough to entertain a large crowd at my house, I will play this. If I need something to listen to in the car that isn't too demanding, yet interesting enough to be worth turning on, I will listen to this. And when I walk into a department store shopping for clothes, this album will be my first guess as to what is playing overhead.
No, It's not amazing, it's not life changing, but it is a nice little listen. And that is all that is necessary for it to be a success in my book.
Speaking of my book and that pesky yellow brick road, I'm going to need somebody to lend me a pitchfork or two. Manowar's castle looks like it's coming up ahead, and I'm going to need something to slay the dragon.