Mika: Life in Cartoon Motion

Christian John Wikane

Mika's natural affinity for pop songwriting and his impressive vocal talent ensures that he will be noticed even without the obvious influences that populate Life in Cartoon Motion.


Life in Cartoon Motion

Label: Universal Republic
US Release Date: 2007-03-27
UK Release Date: 2007-02-05

After making waves throughout the UK and the rest of Europe earlier this year with Life in Cartoon Motion, Beirut-Paris-London native Mika rides the recent crest of "next-big-thing" artists from the UK to splash onto U.S. shores. If you've heard Mika's memorable first single, "Grace Kelly", you already know he sounds a lot like Freddie Mercury and wears the influence like a badge of honor, even name-checking the late front man of Queen in the first verse. Mika vacillates between the affected theatricality of Mercury's full-throttled voice and his own strong falsetto on "Grace Kelly" where he earnestly implores "Why don't you like me?" no less than 12 times. So Mika wants to be liked and he'll go "identity mad" until the object of his affection (audience? record company? love interest?) takes notice. Mika's natural affinity for pop songwriting and impressive vocal talents ensures that he will be noticed even without the obvious influences that populate Life in Cartoon Motion.

Mika masterminds a dozen tracks on Life in Cartoon Motion that are catchy as hell, if you're in the mood for sprightly pop. If you're not in the mood, spending time in Mika's cartoon motion world is like drinking six shots of espresso after a 72-hour bout of sleep deprivation. In fact, if ever an album could be judged by its cover art, Life in Cartoon Motion is it. Next to the recent, more subdued cover shots of fellow Brits James Morrison, Corinne Bailey Rae, and Amy Winehouse, the illustration on Life in Cartoon Motion is an explosion of Technicolor spectacles: the pinks, purples, blues, greens, oranges, and yellows evoke Candy Land via magic markers and R. Crumb (another of Mika's influences, according to his MySpace page).

Doves, flowers, vinyl records, a piano, and swirls of rainbow colors are floating extensions of Mika's hyperactive brainwaves while the figurines correspond to some of the equally animated songs: a little girl holding a lollipop ("Lollipop"), a deceptively "straight-looking" man ("Billy Brown"), and a woman of substantial girth ("Big Girl"). Then there's Mika himself represented by a cropped, sepia photo, perfectly nailing the parted-lip pose of pretty-boy pop stars. The apposition of his mature face with the cartoonish depiction of his world suggests that Mika is still reconciling the transition from childhood to adulthood.

But underneath the cheery keyboards, played by Mika himself, lurk some heavy and likely autobiographical stories. Take "Stuck in the Middle", which appears towards the album's end. Though the intro sets up what you think will be a whimsical walk in the park, the lyrics indicate otherwise:

I sit and think about

the day that you're gonna die

Your wrinkled eyes betray

the joy with which you've smiled

"Stuck in the Middle" characterizes the friction between living honestly when other forces, like conservative family members, are quick to renounce the truth in order to sustain idealized notions of tradition. Mika also tackles heavy-handed issues like infidelity and sexuality on "Billy Brown", a ditty about a married man having an affair with another man that gleefully skips along like The Beatles' "Penny Lane". Mika's juxtaposition of crisis and conviviality on "Billy Brown" and "Stuck in the Middle" (not to mention "Grace Kelly") plays like a clown smiling through tears. Both songs were self-penned by Mika and illustrate his ability to cleverly marry sensitive and substantive lyrics with infections pop hooks.

Even though Mika cops the melody from "(I Just) Died in Your Arms Tonight" by the Cutting Crew, "Relax (Take It Easy)" is also among the better songs here (it was a number one hit in Poland). The music is gloriously synthetic, but the confidence in Mika's voice more than compensates for the artificiality of the music. The same could be said for the rock-driven "Ring Ring", which is not the 1973 ABBA hit though I'm sure Mika could create pop magic out of that too.

However, Life in Cartoon Motion becomes a bit irritating when a character named Raffa Kobeisi (possibly one of Mika's alter-egos?) appears on two pointless interludes that frame "Any Other World". Having to endure a nonsensical monologue about a jilted bride, who speaks in broken English, makes the self-consciously serious "Any Other World" all the more ridiculous. Replete with maudlin strings and a children's choir, "Any Other World" is lyrically malnourished with lines like, "I tried to live alone/but lonely is so lonely alone". Ironically, Mika is much more convincing with teary sentiments when the music is fun.

But such missteps make the giddy pronouncements on a song like "Love Today" all the more sincere. "I've been crying for so long/fighting tears just to carry on", he sings in a falsetto that would leave Jake Shears breathless. The pop-disco arrangement of "Love Today" dresses Mika in legwarmers and leotards; it's the kind of song you'd expect the TV cast of "Fame" to perform mid-episode. Frankly, it's refreshing to hear an unproven artist take risks with material that, historically, is subject to derision.

The real measure of Mika's vocal talent, though, can be found on "Over My Shoulder", a hidden track that follows "Happy Ending". Like a choirboy singing by candlelight, Mika awakes goose bumps with the chilling purity of his voice. It's a shame "Over My Shoulder" appears so covertly because it stirs more authentic feelings than the trite power-pop of "My Interpretation" and "Erase" (co-penned with Desmond Child). To be fair, "Over My Shoulder" is not enough the "cartoon motion" type to really fit the overall mood of this album, but it does suggest that Mika has much more to offer than a retread of Freddie Mercury's histrionics.

The test of Mika's longevity will be how he chooses to progress beyond the colorful kaleidoscope of his debut album. Life in Cartoon Motion has our attention. We do like you Mika, but where will you take us next?


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.