It’s hard to tell who the target audience for Mika’s second album, The Boy Who Knew Too Much, is. The music and lyrics suggest early teenagers, but Mika also seems to be singing to adults who long for a return to this generally tumultuous point in life, or who are still reeling from its effect. Mika won a large audience with Life in Cartoon Motion, especially in the U.K., and his follow-up continues on the same pure-pop format. He is continually upbeat and playful in his singing style, warbling, trilling, and swinging into high falsetto. However, as difficult as his vocal stylings may seem, they do not especially please the ear or move the soul. The music on the album is a colorful collage of pop references and giddy sample loops, but none of it sounds fresh or thrilling. Ultimately, Mika, who’s 26 years old and singing of the problems of young women, needs to move on, grow up, and find his own sound.
“Teenage dreams in a teenage circus,” cheers Mika in the first lines of the album, on “We Are Golden.” And so the circus begins, lead by Mika, who performs feats of vocal gymnastics while singing the bright colors of cotton candy, clad in sparkling spandex. Later in the song, a choir of young voices chants, “We are not who you think we are/ We are golden/ We are golden.” Who can resist the power of a children’s choir? It worked for Pink Floyd and Pat Benatar, but for Mika’s attempt at something anthemic, it is so obvious and forced that it falls flat.
The saccharin musical production and show-tune lyrics that are uniform throughout the album make it difficult to take Mika seriously, although the themes he sings about are not always bright. On “Rain,” produced with Owen Pallett of Final Fantasy, Mika whines, “I’m ready for more than this/ Whatever it is/ I hate days like this.” He really sounds like a little boy who doesn’t want to go to school, stomping around, desperate for attention. Unfortunately, the lyrics are so literal and the music so much like a shot of insulin that it’s easy to imagine Mika high-kicking across the stage with a top hat and cane, but not so easy to see him as introspective during a troubled time.
On “Touches You,” Mika sings over and over again, “I want to be your brother/ And be your father too/ I want to be your sister/ And be your mother too/ I wanna be wanna be/ Whatever else that touches you.” Mika’s gender ambiguity comes to the forefront in this song, although it is present throughout the album. What worked for George Michaels doesn’t work for Mika because in reality there is very little that could be considered “masculine” on the album. That’s not notable in itself, but when Mika attempts to be sexy, singing about “touching you,” his castrato falsetto sounds creepy as hell. Who really wants a sister/father touching them anyway?
Mika has made a name through borrowing the tricks of the trade developed by those who have gone before him. Cartoon Motion was a nice moment for Mika, but this second album does not improve or advance what he did before. In fact, he seems to have regressed through his venture into childhood on The Boy Who Knew Too Much.