Life in Cartoon Motion is a brilliant pop album by the eccentric Mika Penniman. On his debut album, Mika (Mee-ka) brings Freddie Mercury back to life while intertwining the familiar sounds of pop music’s greatest musicians in every note. In doing so he has created pop compositions that are, at the same time, like everything the world has heard before and nothing like what the world has heard before.
The single “Grace Kelly” screams of Queen as Mika’s voice hits a high note and the bridge enters the chorus — he sings, “I try to be like Grace Kelly/ But all her looks were too sad/ so I try a little Freddie/ I’ve gone identity mad!” Identity mad is just the expression to describe this album, which is worthy of comparisons to the songs of Elton John, Freddie Mercury and even the Beatles.
Evident musical influences continue straight into the second track, but transgress from ’70s rock to ’80s pop. “Lollipop” is reminiscent of the Jackson Five with a simplified base beat and a young child singing one of the verses as if to honor the band’s youthfulness. A song with children singing about lollipops on an album that has a cover of psychedelic colors gives one the feel of being in the Big Rock Candy Mountain. In fact, Mika wrote the song for his younger sister. But, the youthful, dance party, sing-a-long feeling of the second track quickly comes to a halt as the alternative piano piece “My Interpretation” takes over. One of the few tracks that seem truly original, with the exception of the hints of the Bee Gees in the chorus, this song is a nice touch to show off the extent of Mika’s multiple genre talent. As a boy he performed in the chorus line of a Strauss opera at the Royal Opera House, and as an adult he attended the Royal College of Music in London. Despite his inability to read music due to dyslexia, Mika’s comprehension of all different genres of music is continuously apparent from track to track.
Despite the lack of exposure of Life in Cartoon Motion, most people are bound to recognize the opening five seconds of the fourth track “Love Today,” since it was sampled and featured in the background of every commercial for The Hills on MTV. In an interview on his website, Mika described the origin of those familiar opening vocal notes, “Because I don’t really know how to play many instruments, I compensate by doing a lot of strange things with my voice.” Beyond the introduction Da’s and Do’s, Mika’s high-pitched voice constantly reminds the listener of Freddie Mercury in this upbeat optimistic song about loving to be happy. The same hopeful attitude carries on into the dance track “Relax, Take it Easy,” which helped Mika break it big in the U.K. late last year.
The CD comes to a pause of optimism with the orchestral ballad “Any Other World,” which Mika has described as a song about readjusting your life to changes in the world. The break in liveliness is followed by the crux of the album composed of “Billy Brown” and “Big Girl (You Are Beautiful).” On a first listen to these two songs anybody remotely familiar with rock will recognize a modern day “Penny Lane” and “Fat Bottom Girls.” On “Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)” with lyrics such as “Walks in to the room/ feels like a big balloon/ I said hey girl you are beautiful” and “You take your girl and multiply about four/ Now a whole lot of woman needs a whole lot more,” I wouldn’t be surprised if Mika outdid Queen’s video of fat bottomed girls on bicycles. “Billy Brown” and “Big Girl” truly show Mika’s talent in taking the influential sounds of the rock gods and creating novel pop music.
With trite lyrics and an Elton John-like piano arrangement, the following track titled “Stuck in the Middle” could be the weakest song on the album. But the close of the album redeems itself with “Happy Ending,” a song on which Mika’s vocal abilities gleam from the most average of octaves to ones that only those possessing true talent can sing with grace. The vocal beauty continues onto lullaby-esque bonus track “Ring Ring.”
Beirut born, Paris and London raised, Mika brings something fresh yet so aged to the pop scene. He is an overly cheerful, tall, dark and handsome man that still lives in the basement of his parents’ home. He even featured two of the old ladies that hang out at his home in his video for “Grace Kelly.” But after one listen to Life in Cartoon Motion, none of this comes as a surprise. Although some may disapprove, most are bound to find much enjoyment in this modern flamboyant Freddie.