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Review: Jason Mraz – Mr. A-Z

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PM Rating System

Jason Mraz - Mr. A-ZGrade: C+ |
Genre: Pop

Summary: Maybe he should go back to sitting on the curb, waiting for his rocket to come.

The evening I first heard the name Jason Mraz, I was “chillin’ like ice cream fillin’” at the Blue Bar in Decatur, checking out one of my favorite local artists, Daniel Lee. After Daniel wrapped up his usual inspiring set, he settled in with us to sort through the world’s problems. The topic of music inevitably came up, and I floated him my perennial favorite question, “so who are you listening to these days?” His eyes lit up like a 4-year-old spotting the tree on Christmas morning. “Mraz” is all he could say. This was back in 2002, a couple month before Waiting for My Rocket to Come would launch off the shelves, making him a verifiable household name, supported by pop anthems like “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry).” His synthesis of pop ballads flavored with hip-hop sensibilities and clever wordplay burrowed him a niche in the sensitive singer-songwriter revival John Mayer sparked. Rocket was a daring effort, flush with sharp artistry, a comfort in his craft, and enough green remaining on him to make it interesting. Now he returns with Mr. A-Z. Is this the same sweet elixir that Rocket was or just day old alphabet soup?

Though it has its moments, it’s more like rice cakes than a musical double decker sundae. He opens with the uncharacteristic “Life is Wonderful.” It is airy and atmospheric, occasionally punctuating the sentence with a blunt drum blast. The first single “Wordplay” is next in line, bringing back the familiar Speedy Gonzales talking style while assembling rhythmic ear seduction. It’s as light as cotton candy, polished to a radio pleasing shine, yet it seems to lack that ease of prior gems like “You and I Both.” Several tracks prove very sketchy. “Mr. Curiosity” seems Mraz’s excuse to grease his falsetto. There is one point in the song an opera singer breaks out her chops. As a general rule, you probably shouldn’t let stray opera singers loose in your songs even if that singer turns out to be Mraz himself. Nothing good can come of that. Though it is quite catchy, “Geek in the Pink” sounds like Mraz is ripping off the Backstreet Boys greatest hits — now if that’s not an oxymoron. Just because, at times, you get lumped into the same category as boy bands, doesn’t mean you have to fan those flames.

This album is best when he stops trying to be Mraz, and let’s go. “Bella Luna” is a quiet French lounge tune with succulent guitars and soothing vocal melodies sliding from his tongue. Its manner is very reminiscent of “Tonight, Not Again” and works so nicely. “Plane” is another interesting track. The chorus can get repetitive, but the remaining elements are very compelling with its sweeping orchestration. The best song of the collection has to be “Please Don’t Tell Her.” This brings all the elements together to form a catchy, artistically conscious song that really has depth and feeling to it. This is the first time on the album we see the overwhelming energy and life that was smeared all over his debut album. The final salvo, “Song for a Friend” seems to be the perfect metaphor for this album as a whole. A decent song that isn’t anything to write home to mom about, suddenly seven minutes into the song it sparks to life, sounding grandiose, magical and inspired. The problem is our interest has already been beaten too badly to really grab hold.

It’s hard to see Mr. A-Z as anything other than the dreaded sophomore slump. I have a new theory on the pesky condition that afflicts so many promising artists. For mere pennies a day, you can save these poor troubadours from sinking back into the obscurity of playing on the same bill with Dave Matthews cover bands. Sorry, just having a Sally Struthers moment. If you are a struggling artist working for years to try to get that first album out, you’ve probably built up quite a catalog of tunes to sift through to form that sparkling debut. That material is fairly sharp since you are hungry (figuratively and literally speaking) and have that undying passion for the music. Then, you hit it big; visit Carson Daily on TRL, tour until you detest every song in your catalog, then its time to trudge back into the studio to whip up the magic again. Maybe you wrote a couple songs on the road, but you have nothing to draw on like that first one. Label is breathing down your neck to get something out to strike while the iron is hot and bam — lackluster second album hits the store shelves. It’s just a theory of course or as Matt LeBlanc said on Friends “There’s a lot of theories that didn’t pan out. The lone gunman. Communism. Geometry.”

Mr. A-Z turns out to be a spotty fellow. There are certainly some looks that make this worth the price of admission, but the litter of skipper tracks is worn like sores all over this album. We need more of the heart and soul that made Live at Java Joe’s such an enticing introduction. We need that energy and fun that made Waiting for My Rocket an addiction disk. In other words, it needs Mraz to get back in touch with the feisty curbside prophet stirring inside of him.

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For more articles by this author, please visit PM Media Review.

About Mark Runyon

  • Emily

    I really believe that in order to review a CD or an artist a critic should have more background info that simply one previous album. Every review of Mr. A-Z i have read has hsd the same flaw: a whining critic to complain that the disc isn’t cut from the same fabric as Waiting for my Rocket to Come. Artists grow, and if every CD sounded the same, why bother buying more than one?
    To judge an artist you not only need to have heard all of their recordings, but I think you should know what their stage show is like. It is clear you have never seen Mraz in concert, or else you would have known what a role humor plays in his performance.
    “There is one point in the song an opera singer breaks out her chops. As a general rule, you probably shouldn’t let stray opera singers loose in your songs even if that singer turns out to be Mraz himself. ”
    This “opera singer” is Mraz himself, but is it too much work to simply look at the album credits and figure this out on your own? He has been known to break out into British accents and opera during his live performances just for laughs, but it comes off more serious on Mr. A-Z.
    For the sake of your critical integrity, DO MORE RESEARCH. Don’t make people write in and do it for you.

  • http://www.pmmediareview.com/ Mark Runyon

    I really hate to burst your bubble here, but I do have all of Mraz’s released recordings (Live at Java Joe’s as referenced in the review and Tonight Not Again). Only the first does justice to capturing his live sound. Plus, I’ve seen him live 3 times now; twice in Athens and once in Atlanta. He has an amazing live set though I’m not sure what that has to do with his studio work. I have no problem with Mraz branching out and trying new things, but he has to make them work. If he tries but falls on his face, well kudos for trying, but try harder next time. It’s not my job to blow sunshine up an artist’s bum, but instead to tell it like it is to people on the fence about purchasing the CD.

    Um the fact that I said “even if that singer turns out to be Mraz himself” pretty much qualifies that I realize that singer is Mraz doing his opera thing though off first listen it doesn’t sound like it.

    So I say to you, try actually reading the article next time before you launch off into a tirade, criticizing a person on their research skills. More importantly, don’t take these things so personally. Mine is only one person’s opinion. Keep searching and I’m sure you’ll find someone that agrees with your opinion on Mr. Mraz’s A-Z. The joy of this world is that there is room for more than one opinion.

  • Jen

    Personal attacks aren’t allowed, yet the critics can attack the artists? Go back to ethics class, people, and get a clue.

    Critics should be a little less…let’s see, how can I say this as to not break the god-complex rule of showing utter respect to the severely lacking skills of these critics…closeminded. Open up your eyes and ears.

    That is all. Continue wallowing in your tasteless, biased, flavorless “skills” that you call reviewing music.

  • http://www.pmmediareview.com/ Mark Runyon

    Jen let me just praise you on that thought provoking comment on why this review is flawed. Your goldmine of insights as to why Mr. A-Z is the best thing since sliced bread is utterly amazing. Your talents as a commentator, and as a critic of the critics, are second to none. Keep up the good fight.

  • michael g.

    I dont know anything about Jason Mraz except that i have just now listened for the first time to him & his album Mr. A-Z. and I was blown over by the obvious talent that the guy has. I am not very knowledgeable about critiques and what standards one artist has to hit for a critic to say this is good, bad or soso. I can only judge from what I personally have experienced. and what i have heard so far with Mraz, is that the guy makes good music. Easy on the ears. i think that his vocal powers would run over the likes of John meyer any time although I dont think he is the kind of artist one could categorize as hip or cool. I must say though that despite that, an honesty flows through his sound which i havent heard in a long time. Unpretentious, unpolished timbre. Not caviar, but qualifiable as ear candy in my humble opinion. Id buy his albums thats for sure.

  • Mary P.

    I read a lot of reviews about this album when it had first come out, and being a big fan of Jason Mraz in the first place, was a bit taken aback at the criticism that came from these people. Understandably, they ARE critics, but I must agree with a few other people here when they say that as an artist, you are allowed to grow and change. Listening to Mraz’s lyrics on the first album, you should know that he insists on change, and by the second album, you should not expect the same, but different music entirely. I was suprised, but pleasantly so, when I first heard the album, Mr. A-Z. Seeing him live only made it better. So, therefore I must say that this critic should take another listen before jumping the gun, perhaps glancing into music history before criticizing and publishing their professional opinions for others to see.

  • http://roseonathorn.blogspot.com Kit

    I must agree with many of the commenters above to disagree with the critic: Jason Mraz is really worth more than a C. Even with a plus sign. On live tracks you can tell that (even in his earliest recordings) he is bursting with talent and mix mastering ability. Have you listened to the words in the songs? Because it takes a true gift to be able to come up with songs and lyrics that click and rhyme so well. One might even be able to compare Mraz to some of the great song writers of our age: Willie Nelson, Alanis Moriesette, and most recently Ben Gibbard. Please check out the whole picture before attacking one small bit of it and being so- well- critical.

  • n/a

    i couldn’t disagree anymore. i utterly love the cd and “song for a friend” is one of my favourite songs of all times, so amazing. the only flaw i see with that song is that the add-on at the end is far too long but other than that, amazing.

    i hate those artists that do one genre and next album, is a completely different artist. i am not debating artists need to grow and build or that they should make the same songs over and over. but they definately need to develop a distinct sound and work on that, not scrap everything and be a completely artist. mr.a-z is awesome throughout, i love even looking at the liner notes and the back and the whole package and how much thought went into it as well as the off-beat lyrics.

    jason mraz is definately one the best and unique artists that also is suitable for a wide range of fans. he produces great tracks in studio and goes far beyond that live.

  • Rick

    As to what mary said, yes, they are critics. But there is such a thing a positive criticism. Not that you’ll find it anywhere today. People need to chill and realize that they don’t have the opinion of God. If somebody doesn’t like Mraz, fine. More for me…