MIKA is liberated on ‘My Name Is Michael Holbrook’

by Laura Shrago

MIKA is liberated on ‘My Name Is Michael Holbrook’

My Name Is Michael Holbrook

Republic Records · October 4, 2019

MIKA is liberated on ‘My Name Is Michael Holbrook’

After a four year break since his last album, 36-year old British singer MIKA returns with My Name Is Michael Holbrook, a fun, somewhat cliché, but nevertheless entertaining fifth album. Filled with lighthearted tracks and lyrics to match, the album sounds like something from much earlier in his discography as it shows no evolution of style or content from his earlier music. Despite this, several of the tracks are catchy and danceable, featuring his impressive vocal capabilities and charming theatrical persona.

The album opens with a rather tacky “Tiny Love”, which cherishes little acts of love rather than grand gestures. The track alternates between slower sections and triumphant, upbeat ones, suggesting that the creators think its message is much deeper than it the lyrics make it out to be (including “It isn’t bursting into song in Central Park / We may be tiny to the world, but in our hearts / We be giants with our tiny, tiny love”). It’s followed by “Ice Cream”, which is inherently an improvement just by the fact that it isn’t trying to be introspective, instead listing off the different ways he desires his love interest using funny and clever summer-related metaphors.

Next is “Dear Jealousy”, which sounds like it would’ve been on the radio in 2015 and is extremely generic, with a steady pop beat and attempted-seductive chord progression. Slowing down for the next track, “Paloma” is a tacky attempt at an emotional pop song with banal lyrics like “Try to fly against the wind / Even with a broken wing / As the sky fell into pieces”.

After a series of disappointing and ordinary sounding tracks, MIKA reminds the listener of his creativity with “Sanremo”. This is virtually the only song on the album that shows any evolution from his established sound, with a sly chorus, ambient vocals, and lyrics that are just vague enough to seem poetic.

He follows with another typical sounding, optimistic pop song, except this one is actually good; “Tomorrow” alters between lower vocal range verses and smooth upper register choruses, keeping the song interesting. It’s nothing revolutionary, but his confession of love and pleasant musical accompaniment make for a sweet song and easy listening. It’s followed by the boring “Ready to Call This Love” featuring Jack Savoretti, whose almost-country, sometimes-raspy low voice seems really out of place on the pop ballad.

Next is “Cry”, which opens with a reference to Grace Jones’ 1985 hit “Slave to the Rhythm”, and continues with a smooth backdrop of synthesized musical noises with the occasional interjection on bass. It’s followed by the oddly High School Musical-sounding “Platform Ballerinas”. It’s essentially another “she’s not like other girls” song, but given the context of MIKA being an openly gay man who has often played with gender expression, it comes across as professing acceptance.

The next track, “I Went to Hell Last Night”, sounds like it’s straight from a musical. It starts slow and builds to a louder chorus, later includes a belted final chorus, and then reprises the beginning of the song for a full-circle conclusion. It features somewhat elementary lyrics like “When you’re dark and you’re sad, and your future’s just as bad”. Arguably the weakest track on the album due to its lack of redeemable qualities in the accompaniment, song structure, and lyrics, it’s followed by the surprisingly poignant and beautiful “Blue”. Swapping brazen instrumentation for barely-there marimba and ambient harmonies, this song exemplifies MIKA’s unexpected knack for raw emotional songs. Lyrics like “Blue is like no other / As sacred as it’s old / Blue like the ocean’s water / But you’re blue when it falls as rain” explore the poeticism of the color and concept of “blue”, repeating the mantra “I will always love the blue in you”.

Following such a touching song comes the complete thematic opposite, “Stay High”, an upbeat song with repetitive lyrics. It feels like this song was just a way to regain energy after the slowness of “Blue”, but ultimately doesn’t add much to the album and isn’t very interesting.

The album ends with an infinitely more dramatic version of “Tiny Love” as its reprise, full with theatrical orchestral interludes and a children’s chorus. The song features verses sung by MIKA’s mother, Joannie, and his sister, Paloma (the namesake for the earlier track). Despite being a little hard to take seriously due to its over-the-top nature, the song ends with a verse that concludes the album nicely and on a sweet note, with MIKA saying “And if it all goes bad / And our love sets like the sun / I’d give up a hundred thousand loves / For just this one”, which feels like he’s summing up the message that he – whether or not effectively – has tried to convey throughout the album.

The album’s jump between theatrics, generic sugary-pop tracks, and randomly poignant lyricism makes the overall body of work come across as tacky. It seems as though audiences probably won’t see any more hits of the likes of “Grace Kelly” from him, but as MIKA has recently expressed, “I have completely abandoned any kind of worry about what people may or may not think about my music.”

So perhaps My Name Is Michael Holbrook isn’t intended as a testament to his staying power or elaborate proof of his wide-range musical capabilities, but rather the product of a liberated new attitude where he can disregard what anybody thinks, and that in and of itself makes the album an enjoyment.