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Twelve years into his career as an international pop artist, the Beirut-born Mika has had enough of the industry merry-go-round and decided to shake things up with his fifth release, a new Mika album called My Name Is Michael Holbrook.
“I had a new team,” he has said, “and refused to go into a commercial music studio. Five or six years ago, you’d go to L.A. for a writing trip and work with one or two people for like two to three days. Now publishers set up these writing sessions and you’ll be writing in this slot of three hours. It’s gross cookie-cutter crap, where all the songs sound like each other. I made a commitment to writing at home and working with people who would spend time in my home studio. The kind of music I make is not chasing radio. I need to be totally in sync with the story I want to tell. It needs to be very intimate, very personal, and very unique.”
Sonically, while Mika still shares some of the baseline DNA of forbears Freddie Mercury (that voice) and other gay artists known for their flights into falsetto (Jimmy Somerville, say), this new Mika album comes across as an updated, contemporary George Michael, which is no bad thing at all.
There’s dance pop aplenty here: from the sexualized thirst-quenching of “Ice Cream” (as winking as his earlier “Lollipop”) to the Scissor Sisters strut of “Platform Ballerinas” (for which someone — not sure if it was Mika or an inspired fan — created a synched video using footage from the dragtacular To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar).
And his ballads have grown richer and subtler with every release. “Ready to Call This Love” — a duet with Jack Savoretti — is tailor-made for weddings of every stripe, while “Blue,” though not in the class of Joni Mitchell’s same-titled bad love landmark, is a gorgeous grace note unlike anything else in his catalogue.
There are no grand political proclamations or earth-shattering personal revelations here; only the small accumulation of details that add up to a lifetime of experience, starting with the beautiful jaunt of “Tiny Love,” about the kind of romance not defined by grand gestures yet rather consistency, loyalty, fidelity. The artist born Michael Holbrook shared an Instagram post to fans to post their own stories and received more than 1,700 responses.
“You think your heartbreak or joy is worthless in the grand scheme of things,” he has said, “but when you say to people, ‘Just for this moment, talk about it,’ suddenly they explode because that’s empowering. Everyone can benefit from empowerment.”
This includes the artist himself. New Mika album My Name Is Michael Holbrook is a potent reminder of his prowess as a songwriter and performer; and the delicate shades he’s bringing with him as he matures into middle age is a healthy sign of an artist in full command of his talents.