It’s a strange world where Jason Mraz becomes a target of critical derision. Granted, “I’m Yours” became the earworm of 2008 and followed the trajectory of summer hit to overplayed single in due course.Yet it’s his positivity, laid out in full force on his latest Look for the Good, that seems to lead to snarky comments about his sunshine-injected southern California singer-songwriter vibes. No one could have predicted the current state of the world, much less Mraz when he was recording this album, and Look for the Good offers good vibe escapism that feels almost surreal in 2020.
Steeped in reggae and backbeat vibes, Look feels like a throwback album for Mraz. While he maintains the high-end studio production, he forgoes the shimmer of his last record Know for an earthier, groove-orientated vibe. The lead-off title is a microcosm for the album as a whole: groove-heavy reggae tracks constructed with steep studio production and positive affirmations. Mraz’s lyrical tropes are in full force on “Look for the Good” (“Look for the good in everything / Look for the people who will set your soul free”), harmless and charming words that will undoubtedly make cynical listeners cringe.
Be it a song about wasting the day away like (“Good Old Daze”) or a generic call for peace and kindness (“Make Love”), Mraz doesn’t stretch too far lyrically. Other than “Time Out”, his ode to his favorite medicinal herb, the album is rather family-friendly. That isn’t bad, necessarily, but it feels like a letdown in the wake of the lyrical overtness from his earliest records. It’s no surprise that an album seemingly titled after to a widely memed Mr. Rogers quote is heavy with themes like love, kindness, and unity. Nonetheless, the wit and wordplay from his earlier albums, namely Waiting for My Rocket to Come and Mr. A–Z, defined Mraz as a deft songwriter, a trait that would make Look feel all the more complete. True, the man is sincere, and he can’t be accused of phoning in his lyrics here, but looking back on how well he can write leaves the text throughout the record lacking in bit and character.
Relying on reggae grooves for the entire album both serves and hinders the record. There’s a certain sameness that takes over by the time “Wise Woman” hits at the album’s halfway mark. What once sounded fresh – syrupy background vocals and subtle electric guitar melodies – starts to feel predictable, almost as if the novelty of a Mraz reggae album has gone stale. At the same time, retaining this constant vibe throughout the record maintains a sensibility of unity and continuity for the record. Sharp turns from one track to another has its appeal, but the perpetual reggae flow of Look for the Good’s 12 tracks makes it a perfect background record for parties and laid-back atmospheres. This album does not break any new ground, but it does state a unified message of love, kindness, and island vibes.
Every album is a product of its artist and its time, and considering the peculiarities of 2020 thus far, Look for the Good will feel disconnected, yet this is of no fault of Mraz’s. We can’t neglect that in an alternate universe, one divorced from a global pandemic, protests, and police brutality, this would be a perfect album for breezy summer vibes and a boilerplate message of kindness and love. Fans of his earlier, more varied records may take Mraz’s latest as a casual but somewhat disappointing release. Look for the Good is an unavoidably endearing record, yet considering the verbal skills of its creator, it feels like a lost opportunity for something wittier and deeper.