I Know What You're Thinking...

...you’re thinking, “Hey, AJ’s an amazing musician, and he’s got an opinion about everything, and he’s a great writer too, so why doesn’t he write a review of Jason Mraz’s CD Mr. A-Z and put it on his blog?” Well, my friend, you’re in luck, ‘cause that’s exactly what I’m gonna do.

When Kati3 first gave me the CD to listen to, I was intrigued. I’d never really heard any of Mraz’s music before, but I’d heard a lot about him and knew he was popular. And even before I’d heard the CD, I had thought that the title (Mr. A-Z - you know, from Mraz) was clever. I started listening to “Life Is Wonderful,” the first song, and was not much impressed from the get-go. I wasn’t sure what I thought about his voice, as he had a tendency to over-pronounce “r”s and to skew his pronunciation if the melody line did something unusual. But, on the other hand, I noted happily that he wasn’t afraid to use his falsetto, and actually had a very smooth break and a very strong head voice. (See Chris Martin of Coldplay and Bono of U2 for other singers like this.) But I listened through the CD several times, and as they say it "grew on me." (I hate that phrase, but there aren't any other good phrases that communicate the same thing. If anyone knows of or thinks up one, let me know. Please.)

Mraz's songwriting style is not my favorite. I'm a big fan of subtlety in songwriting, as any of you who have heard my CD will understand; Mraz tends to be more forthcoming and straight out. And there was more sexual innuendo and sexual not-so-innuendo than the typical music I listen to (although, um, I have been listening to Maroon 5 lately... but that's only because of the string quartet! More about this in a later post). And his backing musicians are not the most creative I've heard. I was especially disappointed by the drummer at first, thinking that there was a lot he could have done to add especially detailed touches to several of the songs. However, I do enjoy the fact that Mraz sings in a rap type of style - not speaking, but cramming as many words as possible into a small space with lots of internal rhymes. But the thing that really elevates the CD out of the first circle of the hell of mediocrity is the wide variety of styles that he displays, while keeping a consistent and coherent feel throughout. In addition to the singer-songwriter pop/rock style an unschooled one such as I would expect, he also throws in dashes of punk, hip-hop, funk and Spanish music for extra flavor. And it works, often very well.

The strongest songs on the CD (in my opinion) are "Wordplay," "Geek in the Pink," "Bella Luna" and "Plane." Close behind are "Mr. Curiosity" and "O. Lover," followed by "Life Is Wonderful," "The Forecast" and "Please Don't Tell Her." I was rather unimpressed with "Did You Get My Message?," "Clockwatching" and "Song For A Friend," and I skipped over them in my last few listenings.

"Wordplay" is just a really fun song, and it contains some of his best lyrics and lyrical-musical interactions (like when he says "Pull out the stops—" and everything stops—and then "Got your attention, I guess it's time again for me to mention the wordplay...."). "Geek in the Pink" is also fun, and gets more into the hip-hop and funk sides of things, although its subject matter is a little less innocent than "Wordplay."

And then there's "Bella Luna," which is Kati3's favorite song. "Bella luna," of course, means "beautiful moon" in Spanish, and the song utilizes "the language of all lovers" in comparing his love to the moon, sometimes with creative and sometimes with just weird lyrics. And, in the end, the final score stands at

The Moon: 2 verses
The Girl: 2 verses and 4 choruses

so I guess we know where his loyalties lie. I wasn't sure what I thought of this song at first, but in time I came to enjoy the Spanish flavoring (complete with a nylon guitar solo in the middle) and the lyrics about the girl. Still not sure what I think about the lyrics about the moon; when I first heard it, I was excited because I thought he was going to start speaking in mythological terms and stories, but that didn't happen so I was somewhat disappointed. Instead he talks about cosmic fish and marble dogs. What's that all about.

A few more scattered thoughts before I close out this review, which apparently hasn't done much to prove any of the three original things you were thinking, except that I have an opinion about everything. (Although I have to admit that I personally liked the "first circle of hell" comment earlier. Gotta love the literary allusions.) I like the music to "Plane" a lot, despite the lyrics being more profane than his other songs (although he keeps it biblical) and vague as to whether he loves or hates the girl. The piano ballad "Mr. Curiosity" was a refreshing change of pace, although it contains a middle section where he apparently turns his voice into an opera singer for a while, which is creepy (though not as creepy as the choir in Damien Rice's song "Cold Water," which also sings in the middle of the song and at the end, too) – and it is him because there aren't any other vocals listed. "The Forecast" has some clever lyrics, but more innuendo than most of the other songs. And "Did You Get My Message?," I think, is just really lame.

And a word to the wise young songwriter: When you start the first song on the album, and you're not sure if people will like your voice, your writing or your music that much, it's not a good idea to include the lyric "There is no end to what I'm sayin'...."


Darth_Harbison said...

Okay, well, I'm not entirely sure where the marble dogs come from, but the cosmic fish are no doubt based on the influence of Douglas Adams, who frequently uses fish to represent things like . . . um . . . animals who swim in the sea. Or potentially one's ear. But fish are one species that are pretty much everywhere, so the term "cosmic fish" would make sense.

As for "keeping it biblical" . . . you should get David and Andrew together sometime to talk about what sort of cussing the Bible allows.

CSUF Rock Star said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
CSUF Rock Star said...

darth_harbison wrote:

"As for "keeping it biblical" . . . you should get David and Andrew together sometime to talk about what sort of cussing the Bible allows."

... or you could just read my blogpost On Profanity, "Substitute Words," and Derek Webb from January.



Mike Morabito said...


Thanks for the thorough review. Part of me doesn't even care to listen the album after reading such a superb review.

-mike morabito

bellevoce said...

I actually just listened to this album again today. In fact, I have both of his albums and enjoy each to the fullest!

Your musical analysis of the album is very interesting. I think I shall learn a lot from your Music Composition major!

I felt similarly to you in that the first song did not impress me at first, but after time passed of forcing myself to listen to the whole CD, I began to appreciate his lyrics. Above any of his musical attributes, I most definitely enjoy his lyrics.

One of my favorite quotes (on my facebook page) is "It takes no time to fall in love, but it takes you years to know what love is." So often, Hollywood forgets that love is much deeper than what they portray it to be. Jason Mraz also notices the difference from being "in love" and loving someone.

Memories tie into the music that we listen to and when we return to certain styles, those memories come flooding back. This album established strong connections to good times in my life; my random returns rejuvinate these feelings and I bask in the remembrance.

I could go on and on about many of the songs, but we'll chat about it sometime when we meet up again.


maTT said...

Sadly, my exposure to Mraz is limited. I think I kind of like some of the stuff I've heard. Dude -- Maroon 5? I really really like them and I told you to listen to them long, long, ago.
And did you know about freederekwebb.com? pretty awesome. I listen to his podcast.

maTT said...

sorry for the gratuitous comma in the previous comment. I'm tired.