After a slew of sugar-coated hits like ‘Lollipop’, ‘Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)’, ‘Love Today’ and ‘Grace Kelly’, Mika is back with his fifth studio album, the personal-titled ‘My Name Is Michael Holbrook’ (and yes, that is his real name).
Does the album title mean that Mika’s stripped himself down from the glittery persona? Well yes, and no. And does it mean album number five is the dreaded “this is my most personal album yet” spiel? Again, it’s a mixed bag.
The album’s opener, ‘Tiny Love’, is the standout of the album, by far. The track is like Mika’s own version of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (albeit less bold). It leaps and jumps in genre, going from upbeat, funk-pop to full on piano ballad all in the space of a 4 minute song. The album is bookend by the ‘Tiny Love Reprise’, which makes you feel as though you’ve journeyed with Mika through his inner psyche, arriving at its dramatic, violin-led destination. There’s a rousing child’s chorus as the album draws to a close; a rising crescendo to a meandering record.
Mika’s voice, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the gem of the album. His high octaves sprinkle some of that classic Mika magic over the thirteen tracks; matching the pumping pulse that beats throughout the record like some sort of great big glittering heart.
‘Dear Jealously’, while slow to start, is another funky gem of the album. Taking inspiration from 90s synths, it details Mika’s lack of fulfilment. “I’m jealous of the man I used to be / And the man I could become.” The way he drawls “I’m jealouuuus” could literally fit perfectly in a Backstreet Boys – or even a Britney Spears – song. And I mean that in the best way possible. When you stick a Mika record on, you want some dirty, sugary pop. And that’s exactly what you get here.
‘Tomorrow’ follows on in the same vein. With that unique crystal-like high voice of his, Mika sings of a fleeting lover, “If this isn’t what you wanted / Then why’d you put a smiley in your message then?”. He’s singing in first person this time around, instead of opting for the third person narrative he adopted on his debut. It’s this shift that makes ‘Michael Holbrook’ his most personal yet. With an album title that literally his name, though, I wouldn’t have expected anything less.
‘Paloma’ is a mellower affair, a ballad about his sister, who almost died when she fell from a fourth floor balcony and was impaled on the railings. Thankfully, she survived. Mika coos: “Until the sky fell into pieces, the night our life fell into pieces too / Try to fly against the wind, even with a broken wing / As the sky fell into pieces.” Which, I mean, is just a beautiful piece of poetry.
‘Sanremo’ is the most experimental on the album, and I love it. With strong Euro-pop vibes, it’s something a little different from the rest of the record. Painting an image of drinking cocktails with little umbrellas under the summer skies, it conjures up a feeling deep within in. Which is what good, true music should do. Mika does it with ease.
The only critique I’d have of Mika’s ‘My Name Is Michael Holbrook’ would be that some of the songs seem a bit… choppy when going into one another. One second, you’ll listening to an upbeat, sugar-coated confection, the next, the track stops abruptly and you’re led into a piano-based, slow burner. There’s nothing wrong with having a bit of variety, of course, but the changes are so sharp and sudden you’re left wondering if perhaps the track-listing could’ve been mixed up a bit to save this from happening.
With that said, the way that the tracks are arranged means that there’s never a lull in the album. Usually, you get about two thirds into a record and start suffering from musical fatigue. Not with ‘My Name Is Michael Holbrook’. The album whizzes by, a colourful, glittering 13-track affair from the eccentric singer.
The record takes a personal dive into Mika’s mind, as the album art would suggest (how sick is the album cover, by the way?). From an ode to his sister with ‘Paloma’, to his sexuality on ‘Ice Cream’, to his introspection on ‘Dear Jealousy’, it truly is his most personal record yet. The album juggles unique intimacy with grandiose production, and it bursts with colour because of it.
For more on pop music, check out my review of Taylor Swift’s ‘Lover’. Or, stalk music habits and see what I’ve been listening to!