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We’ll have whatever Jason Mraz is smoking, please. On “Love Is A Four Letter Word,” out today, Mraz is at his hippie-dippiest, peace-loving, live-in-the-now best. If you thought he was mellow before, just wait until you check out the new material. Throughout the album’s 12 songs, he explores love in all its forms and it’s safe to say, he’s for it.
In these troubled times, Mraz is here to tell us that everything is just as it should be, right here and right now. It’s Up With People set to a slight reggae beat. If such affirmations were used sparingly, it would be fine, but “Love” drowns in them so aggressively that it feels like the album should come complete with rainbows, unicorns, fluffy puppies, and tweeting love birds.
Cynics need not apply, but they will have long checked out by the time he gets around to the group sing on “Everything is Sound,” which features such lyrics as “let’s sing to be happy/to feel things/to communicate/to be heard/sing out to protest/to project/and to harmonize with birds.” Yes, I heard it the first time on “Free To Be You And Me” when I was growing up.
Musically, Mraz is to be commended for stretching out here beyond conventional pop rhythms. On “The Freedom Song” (the one song on the album not written by Mraz) he bolsters the joyous message with horns and a percolating drums. But the free-floating, jazzy “5/6” gets weighed down by the pop psychology lyrics: “Don’t dress up your children like dolls from your past/they’ll run from you madly/they’ll never look back/and when they grow older/they’ll do just the same/the world’s a reflection of how children play.” Come again?
On the gently swaying, “Living In the Moment,” Mraz is so laid-back, he’s horizontal. “I let my past go past/and now I’m having more fun/I’m letting go of the thoughts that do not make me strong/and I believe this way can feel the same for everyone.” It’s a little like a musical version of one of those Wayne Dyer self-help/awareness programs that runs incessantly during PBS pledge drives.
When Mraz dials back the platitudes just a little bit, something quite enjoyable emerges, such as on “93 Million Miles,” where he reminds the listener that he/she can always come back home. It’s a lilting, lovely tune. Same with “Frank D. Fixer,” about Mraz’s grandfather, who “grew his own food and he could fix his own car/I watched it all happen in my backyard.” Set to a John Mayer-type mid-tempo shuffle, it’s the album’s strongest track and one that, while looking to the positive, doesn’t seem like it came straight out of an awareness training seminar...until he starting singing about the plight of the family farm. First single, “I Won’t Give Up,” has a pleasant persuasiveness.
Mraz is someone who has always looked on the bright side of life and his music has reflected this optimistic world view. Often, it’s been to great effect, as on the irrepressible “The Remedy” or the ubiquitous “I’m Yours.” He sounds great here and the music is lilting, but he too often drowns in his own well-intentioned message.