Mika: The Origin of Love

Mika's third LP The Origin of Love washes away the neon cartoon paint that made The Boy Who Knew Too Much too sugary, but in doing so it steps back from the goofy wit that made his debut so memorable.


The Origin of Love

Label: Universal Republic
US Release Date: 2012-10-16
UK Release Date: 2012-10-08

If the title of Mika's third studio LP The Origin of Love gives you pause, you're well within reason. This is the same guy who wrote a song about curvaceous women hitting the clubs with diet Cokes in hand (“Big Girl [You are Beautiful]” from Life in Cartoon Motion) and a Disney-ready ditty about being a “Toy Boy” (from The Boy Who Knew Too Much). Mika may write music for a good time, but philosophical exploration is far from his forte, especially considering that even when he gets into primo ballad territory he just ends up copying Journey. Love is a topic that has befuddled the likes of Søren Kierkegaard and Emmanuel Levinas, both of whom centered their respective philosophies on the indefinable concept. Those two are lofty voices to live up to within the broad spectrum of people who have examined love; it doesn't become easier when the field is narrowed to the musical realm.

For while Mika isn't the chanteur one would go to for that soul-grabbing rumination on love, pop music, and indeed the pop album itself, is an excellent place for such exploration. Humankind has expressed its wishes and desires in lyric for millennia. Bland stuff like "We Are Never Getting Back Together" may dominate the charts now, but pop and rock have a storied history of talented lyricists. In fact, the love song is perhaps the most prominent strand in pop music's DNA. If music, or art in general, is meant to serve as a mirror for a culture's values and beliefs, it is inevitable that people will sing of love in forms both poignant and crude.

But, of course, the title The Origin of Love isn't a signpost for a concept album. It's a thought-provoking title that nonetheless is tied to the guy whose biggest hit is "Grace Kelly," the Queen-esque bombast of which has become the defining trait of his career. Being philosophically minded, I naturally took the name of the record a lot further than it ought to be taken. However, while this isn't Mika's sudden turn towards really poignant lyricism, it is a step back from the garish, cartoony excess that made The Boy Who Knew Too Much the biggest of sophomore slumps. His debut Life in Cartoon Motion was admittedly one sugary sweet piece of bubblegum pop to chew on (there is an innuendo-heavy song titled "Lollipop"), but with his sophomore outing he went overboard, the Jackson Pollack splashes of technicolor so vibrant it was nauseating.

The paradigm shift that is The Origin of Love's sonic flavor is made evident right from the get-go with the title track. It's a much-appreciated step back from the FAB! opening cuts that led his past two LPs ("Grace Kelly" and "We are Golden," respectively), and it wisely swerves away from the mistakes made by The Boy Who Knew Too Much. What's striking, though, is how little the rest of the record sounds like the title track. The single most prevailing sonic on The Origin of Love is the type of club-ready pop that just begs for several remix EPs; I can already hear the wheels Tiësto's mind spinning. Many of these songs could be ordinary pop hits, but are loaded with gimmicks that don't do any service to the music. "Make You Happy" is a pretty nice, string-accented ballad until a distracting vocoder is given center stage in the chorus. "Stardust" is a wonderful showcase for Mika's falsetto, but recycled synth textures reduce it to nothing more than background music to a dancefloor. Paradoxically, this album finds Mika at his most danceable and his most stately; had this been his debut LP, Mika still would have been perceived as a "happy" pop artist, but in comparison to his past releases this material loses its pep due in large part to the absence of the Freddie Mercury glam that made him such a fresh breath of air with Life in Cartoon Motion.

One has to wonder if this is how Mika really views maturation. While the garish excess of The Boy Who Knew Too Much was problematic, the ebullient pop of "Grace Kelly" is part of what made Mika the minor sensation he was with his debut; it's hard to imagine him without recalling that technicolor brand of pop. With The Origin of Love it sounds like he's sacrificed that youthful glee in his songwriting for club anthems that aren't really all that mature. Being overzealously zany is a problem, but Mika doesn't solve his weaknesses merely removing that energy. He hasn't abandoned his past silliness—the tacky gold splashes on the otherwise stoic sleeve art are evidence enough of this—but it's as if he's afraid to even give a little slack to his peppier tendencies. This is a record that gives with one hand what it takes away with the other: it's proof that Mika isn't content to be a one-trick pony, but it's also an indication that he isn't quite sure what to do once the extravagant color has faded away.






Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Mobley Laments the Evil of "James Crow" in the US

Austin's Mobley makes upbeat-sounding, soulful pop-rock songs with a political conscience, as on his latest single, "James Crow".


Jordan Tice's "Bad Little Idea" Is a Satirical Spin on Dire Romance (premiere)

Hawktail's Jordan Tice impresses with his solo work on "Bad Little Idea", a folk rambler that blends bluesy undertones with satiric wit.


Composer Ilan Eshkeri Discusses His Soundtrack for the 'Ghost of Tsushima' Game

Having composed for blockbuster films and ballet, Ilan Eshkeri discusses how powerful emotional narratives and the opportunity for creative freedom drew him to triple-A video game Ghost of Tsushima.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Love and Cinema: The Ruinous Lives in Żuławski's L'important c'est d'aimer

Żuławski's world of hapless also-rans in L'important C'est D'aimer is surveyed with a clear and compassionate eye. He has never done anything in his anarchic world by the halves.


On Bruce Springsteen's Music in Film and TV

Bruce Springsteen's music in film and television captured author Caroline Madden's imagination. She discuses her book, Springsteen as Soundtrack, and other things Springsteen in this interview.


Alt-pop's merci, mercy Warns We May "Fall Apart"

Australian alt-pop singer-songwriter, merci, mercy shares a video for her catchy, sophisticated anthem, "Fall Apart".


Tears in Rain: 'Blade Runner' and Philip K. Dick's Legacy in Film

Blade Runner, and the work of Philip K. Dick, continues to find its way into our cinemas and minds. How did the visions of a paranoid loner become the most relevant science fiction of our time?


London Indie-Poppers the Motive Impress on "You" (premiere)

Southwest London's the Motive concoct catchy, indie-pop earworms with breezy melodies, jangly guitars, and hooky riffs, as on their latest single "You".


Vigdis Hjorth's 'Long Live the Post Horn!' Breathes Life into Bureaucratic Anxiety

Vigdis Hjorth's Long Live the Post Horn! is a study in existential torpor that, happily, does not induce the same condition in the reader.


Konqistador and HanHan Team for Darkwave Hip-Hop on "Visaya"

Detroit-based electronic/industrial outfit, Konqistador team with Toronto hip-hopper HanHan for "Visaya", a song that blends darkwave and rap into an incendiary combination.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.