Life In Cartoon Motion (2007)

Hearing Life In Cartoon Motion for the first time changed the way I see music. It gave the word a new meaning. Suddenly I heard an artist who was talking directly to the world. I wanted to listen to him and I believed what he said. Mika was convincing and his charisma came through music powerfully like a force of nature. He was intelligent, sensitive and sophisticated and at the same time articulated words and hit his piano in a way that implied he does things exactly as he wants even to the point of being stubborn and I absolutely loved that. I think that’s what I loved most. That someone did exactly what they wanted.

Grace Kelly was written as a rant towards the music business and the system that makes every artist to fit in the standard format. This day everything is different yet nothing has changed. Artists are still seen as numbers, now in streamings or TikTok fame and making music those demands in mind is as harmful as it was back then.

Life In Cartoon Motion is a collection of classics. Grace Kelly and Lollipop are songs that can have a fresh look again and again whenever needed. When I listen to the album and young Mika singing about lollipops in his joyful, excited way I can’t help but smiling. The meaning of the song is not only in his words, it’s equally much in his voice and I can understand why the song became such a success story. Time has treated it well. Lollipop at Versailles Royal Opera (2020) with a classical orchestra and a choir filled both the stage and my heart with pure energy and joy of music.

My personal favourite on Life In Cartoon Motion is Relax. Lyrics could be a metaphor of any difficult situation in life but the story is actually quite literal as the song was written about the London bombing attacks that happened a couple of years earlier. Mika has the whole universe in his voice and when he sings about universal love and connection between souls the impact is spiritual, almost religious:

There is an answer to the darkest times / it’s clear we don’t understand it / but the last thing on my mind is to leave you / I believe that we’re in this together.

Any Other World in the middle of the album is fundamental style, something to build on and maybe the most timeless song Mika has written. The world goes from one disaster to another and people are small and lonely in the middle of that. What else can we do than just smile and try to mean it, unite with others and live our life day by day. That’s how it has been and will always be and putting it in music, at such young age and in such a classy, mature way, is incredible. Any Other World under stars was a highlight during the Imaginarium tour (2010) and the performance in I Love Beirut (2020) with the documentary of the city was equally stunning and utterly powerful.

Love Today, Big Girl (You Are Beautiful) and Happy Ending, all classics and on the regular setlist. Makes me happy I have been able to see live all the songs on the album. My Interpretation, Billy Brown and Stuck In The Middle many times even though the songs haven’t been on the regular setlist for a while. Ring Ring, my most played high-energy song, only twice. The mood in the song is exact. Nothing fights against frustration like blasting Ring Ring:

You got a dangerous obsession / now I’m in need of some protection / that was never my intention / used to love me, now you hate me, say I drove you crazy / well if I did, you made me / won’t somebody save me, from you now

Over My Shoulder is the purest, most genuine Mika. I love this song and I collect different live versions of it for my mind gallery. Listening to the symphonic version of Over My Shoulder can transfer me to a very particular landscape in autumn, almost wintery time and I always want to think the place exists for real.

Over my shoulder / running away / feels like I’m falling / losing my way

Life In Cartoon Motion has straightforward themes, young explosive energy and timeless class. Every song takes directly to the goal. I listen to My Interpretation and Stuck In The Middle and suddenly I feel I’m there. I’m watching people, I can feel the atmosphere. All the songs on Life In Cartoon Motion are familiar from gigs and I have many special rituals for listening to them at home. When I want to see a cross-section of Mika’s mind from the time he was young and I didn’t know him at all I listen to the full album from the beginning to the end.

The Boy Who Knew Too Much (2009)

Whereas Life In Cartoon Motion is full of straightforward themes, classic pop songs and childlike joy, The Boy Who Knew Too Much reminds a teenage mind and is that way darker, much more complicated and even a bit closed. It has absolutely stunning young vocals and many playful, sophisticated melodies. These songs are not average pop songs and The Boy Who Knew Too Much is not an average pop album. Mika albums never are.

We Are Golden continues where Life In Cartoon Motion left. This ultimate teenage dream and the biggest pop classic on the second album tells us the universal young generation message: We are not who you think we are / we are golden / we are golden. Generation after generation has felt the same feeling and told the same message and I appreciate it that Mika has kept the song on his setlist, it’s always an energetic highlight.

Even though the second album is generally more complicated than the first album it has several clear, strong and very emotional themes. My personal favourite song I See You tells about young, insecure love that includes fear and vulnerability. Love that wants to observe from afar, love that probably doesn’t even want to fully learn to know the other person. I have always enjoyed the film soundtrack vibe and the huge, explosive highlight. The main tone in I See You is delicate of course. There’s something delicate in this kind of young love.

Rain has become known as a break up song but the emotion described in the song can be related to other situations in life as well. Sometimes it just rains and we hate days like that and simply want to forget everything and just be surrounded by music.

This ordinary mind is broken / you did it and you don’t even know / you’re leaving me with words unspoken / you better get back ’cause I’m ready for / more than this whatever it is / baby, I hate days like this

Another exceptionally strong song on the album with its playful melody and dark, metaphorical story is Toy Boy. I find Toy Boy one of the most serious songs Mika has written. The lyrics are like a dark fairytale about toys yet it’s impossible not to pick up the thought of a disapproving environment and feeling of not being accepted and it hurts my heart to think about that. A heartbreaking, very serious topic.

But your momma thought there was something wrong / didn’t want you sleeping with a boy too long / it’s a serious thing in a grown-up world / maybe you’d be better with a Barbie girl

Some of the themes on the album are not clear at all. Songs like Dr John and One Foot Boy can have multiple interpretations. My mind creates stories but I am sure the original story in Mika’s head, the image in my head and the image in your head are all very different. To balance the darkness many melodies on the album are extra joyful and extremely sophisticated. The melodies in Blame It On The Girls, Blue Eyes and for example Good Gone Girl sound particularly playful and together with detailed stories and rhyming lyrics ask for careful listening.

He’s got looks that books take pages to tell / he’s got a face to make you fall on your knees / he’s got money in the bank to thank / and I guess you could think he’s living at ease

The special edition of The Boy Who Knew Too Much includes a DVD with a small documentary where Mika tells about making of the album. Feels always surprising to see Mika’s young, very boyish appearance and then hear his thoughtful words, makes me remember he has been a professional and experienced artist since very young age. On the documentary Mika tells background for the album and its different songs, mentions it was written in London and then recorded in LA and also describes how visual inspiration and mood boards help him to create his sonic world.

The Origin Of Love (2012)

The title song on Mika’s third album The Origin Of Love has a clear and direct message. Origin Of Love celebrates and defends love and wants to tell about it to the whole world no matter what people – or institutions like the church – say. Highlighting personal freedom and everyone’s right to love whoever their heart decides is an essential part of Mika’s music and something that defines him almost as much as Grace Kelly does.

You are the sun and the light / you are the freedom I fight / God will do nothing to stop it / The origin is you / You’re the origin of love

The Origin Of Love has love as the main theme. Songs on the album look at the emotion from different perspectives and I find that very thought-provoking. Usually the object is another person but we can also love our home, our country or life itself. Many people search for practical kind of love. They want someone suitable enough, someone to spend time with, someone with similar kind of interests. Some people want romantic gestures to feel special and some are mostly interested in the physical side of love. For some people love is a social game. They want to be successful, to have status and a good position in life.

Then there’s love like described in Underwater. Underwater kind of love carries us. As a song Underwater carries the whole album and if necessary any live performance as well. It can be close and intimate or it can be huge. With symphony arrangements it becomes literal. Underwater kind of love makes us do incredible things, metaphorically it gives us extra oxygen. It’s the kind of love we don’t need to question, it’s something we recognise when it comes to us. We don’t choose it. Like everything passionate in life, it chooses us. It makes us weak and it makes us strong. It makes us small in front of it and giant next to everything else.

Cause all I need is the love you breathe / put your lips on me and I can live / underwater

Underwater has all the other songs on the album grouped around it in a good and balanced way. The other songs are wonderful in their own way. One of my personal favourites on the album is Heroes and I will never forget how it felt to hear Heroes at Teatro Sociale Como (2015) when Mika’s voice filled the venue during the symphony concert. The experience was stunningly beautiful. I couldn’t stop thinking what an amazing artist Mika is, what a masterpiece Heroes is and how much those both deserved circumstances exactly like that night.

After hearing many live performances it’s difficult not to connect them to different songs on The Origin Of Love. After hearing a particularly intense gig version and a truly convincing symphony version of Make You Happy the first word to describe the song is honest. Many times the dance vibe is a dress around the song, pop music is Mika’s way to tell us extremely personal stories. On The Origin Of Love that is obvious, the album is a mix of cheerful pop and honest observations of life and love in it.

Maybe you can’t hear me / but I feel like screaming when you’re near me / save me from your theories / at the very least just let me cry on you

Each song on the album offers a different view on love. The mood goes from seducing in Lola to serious and adult in Kids, from disappointed in Stardust to theatrically dramatic in Overrated. In Step With Me the atmosphere is weirdly romantic, maybe that’s the alcohol talking, and in Love You When I’m Drunk the wedding bells in the beginning of the song wake up to realise that sometimes love is actually a lie and it’s better understand it before it’s too late.

I don’t wanna be that guy / look you in the face and lie / someone has to say it first / even if the words may hurt / I only love you, I only love you I only love you, only love you, only love you when I’m drunk

The regular edition of The Origin Of Love has Emily in English but the French version Elle Me Dit from the French edition of the album has during time become the more known version of the song and a visible and important part of the setlist. Special edition tracks include also songs like Karen (heard at French gigs and on the symphony setlist in Montreal), Un Soleil Mal Luné and Ta Dah. All wonderful songs that deserve attention as much as the regular edition tracks.

No Place In Heaven (2015)

No Place In Heaven (2015) shows the other side of something The Origin Of Love (2012) already described. The third album looked at love from every possible direction whereas the fourth album is focused on those emotions and phenomenons that will inevitably follow when we let us fall in love and are totally vulnerable in front of something or someone.

Just loving life means accepting the fact it can end any day. The same way as Underwater on the previous album Last Party is the most powerful song on No Place In Heaven. The song that is based on Freddie Mercury’s story is my personal favourite on the album. The simple black and white music video directed by photographer Peter Lindbergh is strong and intense and different symphony arrangements (officially released on the symphony edition of No Place In Heaven and later on the Versailles album) give the song extra character.

If you could look into the future would you / if you could see it would you even want to / I got a feeling that there’s bad news coming / but I don’t want to find it out

As a child we want to meet the expectations set by our parents, as a parent we struggle not to set any. This complicated relationship is mentioned on the album several times in songs like All She Wants, Good Wife and No Place In Heaven. The title song refers mostly to God (the Father in Heaven) but talks also about distance between people and I find the lyrics in the song some of the saddest in Mika’s music.

In between us an ocean can be found / how long will I swim before I drown / and in between those words we dare not say / do you think that you could learn to love me anyway

Distance has an important role in several songs on the album. Rio is searching possibilities to take distance from our everyday life. Maybe living like someone else could make us somehow better persons. Listening to Rio makes me literally think of going to Rio. The pandemic cancelled my travel plans to Rio the same way it cancelled many other plans but I still have that dream. Maybe I will see Mika performing in Rio one day.

In Staring At The Sun the love is strong but the physical distance in it separates two people in a heart-breaking way. The lyrics are sweet, almost cute “my love is blind from staring at the sun” but the story behind the song is touching and talks about staring at the sun and missing someone who is tragically far away. Darkness is typical for Mika’s music and his songs are rarely how they look at first, there’s always a lot to discover in the story.

Here I stand, staring at the sun / distant land, staring at the sun / you’re not there, but we share / the same one / miles apart, staring at the sun / distant hearts, staring at the sun / one thing’s true, just like you / there’s only one

Several details on No Place In Heaven make me smile. The first track on the album Talk About You introduces us the city we can see in the cover illustrations and describes the feeling we have when we are in the middle of people but see only the one we are in love with. Talk About You works live very well, I always enjoy seeing how that exact moment on stage Mika is the centre of everyone’s attention just like described in the lyrics. Oh Girl You’re The Devil reminds Dr John on the second album. I love the vocals and even though I can’t know the full story my mind starts to create images and thoughts about the weird little cult I imagine hearing in the song.

In Good Guys I pay attention both to the poetic lyrics and the melody yet find the thought behind the song the most interesting. It took a while for this song to grow in me, I was never lucky to have role models or examples in my own life. However, after learning to know the song I see Good Guys as a beautiful and important part of Mika’s personal story and find the thought extremely touching. It’s a key moment in life to move on from searching role models to be one. Good Guys has personal meaning for many people, it’s one of the songs that can give courage in finding a personal path. I rarely care about remix versions but the Good Guys remix in the end of the album is a wonderful surprise.

Sometimes I wonder if the life described in Ordinary Man is a dream of the regular lifestyle but assume “ordinary” refers to the feeling of not being important. In general, No Place In Heaven talks beautifully about several sad themes. The more we love, the more intense the other emotions become as well. The songs on the album express feelings of not being accepted or even being rejected, feelings of not being worthy and sadness because of words that are said. If someone is talented and successful in what they do it doesn’t mean they can’t feel sad or hurt. Of course they can.

When I heard No Place In Heaven for the first time I was shocked I hadn’t seen all the sadness before and then realised it wasn’t revealed this way before. The Boy Who Knew Too Much has a lot of young darkness in it. However, the third album describes the cheerful side of life and it’s only in the fourth one we get deeper in the sadness. All that shows a lot of personal development. It takes courage to separate and say out loud difficult emotions. The fifth album My Name Is Michael Holbrook (2019) talks about the full spectrum of colours in a very personal way.

The bonus songs in the end of No Place In Heaven are true treasures. Promiseland shows a mature version of that determination and charisma Mika became known for in 2007. Even as a bonus song and without any marketing efforts the song became a big natural favourite. Boum Boum Boum from the French edition of the album never fails to make in a good mood and is an excellent live song. Porcelain describes a very special, fragile emotion. Once, when something serious happened in my life, I suddenly couldn’t feel my hands and later thought of Porcelain and how well the song describes a situation like that.

It’s hard to breathe / my knees are weak / it’s a cold path / and I can’t feel my feet / porcelain / it’s the state that I’m in / hold me carefully / just one breath could shatter me

My Name Is Michael Holbrook (2019)

Of all the five studio albums My Name Is Michael Holbrook is the most intimate one. Topics behind the songs are serious and extremely personal, the music is beautiful, loving and emotional. The title song Tiny Love defines the album yet I always think the full triangle formed by Tiny Love, Stay High and Tiny Love Reprise creates the foundation of the album.

In Tiny Love Mika talks about discovering himself in the most literal way: My name is Michael Holbrook, I was born in 1983. When Mika talks about this song he talks about self-worth and valuing ourselves. In our hearts we be giants with our tiny, tiny love. I love listening to Tiny Love watching the powerful, intense film directed by filmmaker Wiz and seeing the song representing Mika’s personal story. The more I listen to Tiny Love the more I feel about it, like it could only grow and expand making the single cover art that way particularly appropriate. Stay High continues the theme and gives attention to people around us, at gigs during Stay High the audience is always included. It’s important to keep up the good feeling and we can help each other to do that.

Your fingertips (your fingertips) upon my skin (upon my skin) / you bring sunshine to my window, baby, let it in / wherever we go, I wanna stay high, not low / wherever we go, we’re gonna get higher than the sun, my baby

Finally, in the end of the album, Tiny Love Reprise puts Mika’s family members in the spotlight and Mika’s mother and his sister Paloma sing a part of the song as his guest stars. Tiny Love Reprise is overwhelmingly emotional and makes me cry every single time. This song is one of the most beautiful things I know. It’s not a regular pop song but a piece of art that highlights Mika’s talent, not only as a singer but as someone who has an ability to speak and communicate purely through his music. The meaning of his family, the things that are said and the things that are not said are all there, in one song. The result is impressive and extremely touching.

My Name Is Michael Holbrook has several songs where Mika talks about his family. The most direct is Paloma where Mika describes the serious accident his sister Paloma went through some years ago. Paloma is one of the most personal songs on the album and the serious topic combined with the pretty melody has made it one of my personal favourites on the album. While chatting between songs at gigs Mika connects Platform Ballerinas and Blue to his family as well. All three songs – Paloma, Platform Ballerinas and Blue –are excellent live songs and it’s impossible for me to listen to the album without thinking of the live versions of these songs.

Blue works like a medicine even though the origin of the song is in grief. The first notes of it can immediately calm me down. It gives an ideal rhythm to breathing and makes my muscles totally relaxed. Blue is a mysterious song, the colour can refer to gender (blue is a feminine colour) but also state of mind. There’s such pure, absolute beauty in Blue that I forget everything else when I listen to it and can sometimes reach a certain meditative state even in the middle of the gig, in the middle of the crowd. Blue is deep and bold, blue is like no other, as sacred as it’s old.

Several songs on the album talk about Mika himself. Dear Jealousy gives an honest explanations why writing the album was hard. It’s also one of the most relatable songs on the album. Who hasn’t felt those feeling, we all have.

Oh baby, I’m jealous, I’m jealous, I’m jealous of us / I’m jealous of everything that I know we could be / but never really seems enough / I’m jealous, I’m jealous of everyone / jealous of the man I used to be / and the man I could become

Tomorrow and Sanremo can be seen as personal stories or observations. Sweet Tomorrow is a wonderful gig song, the mood is irresistible. Sanremo feels dreamy, even romantic but the official music video also directed by Wiz about 1950’s homophobic events connects it to more meaningful themes. If I ask my husband Sanremo is his favourite song on the album. He likes romantic songs and he prefers clear stories over symbolic details in films. Ice Cream talks about sex. Just when I thought I haven’t given the song enough attention I heard the most amazing live version at Versailles in December 2020. Mika never fails to surprise us, his songs can be discovered again and again.

Ready To Call This Love with Jack Savoretti is absolutely beautiful and one of my favourite collaborations and I dream about hearing this song at gigs. Cry is a complicated song but still a part of the story. It talks about love but gives an impression of hidden anger and anger is a complicated feeling. It can break things, it’s something uncontrollable between an unsettling experience and a new balance.

I Went To Hell Last Night is among my many favourites on the album. I’m not a religious person, I like to keep distance to all official religions and churches, yet surprisingly songs with a strong spiritual tone have often become my biggest favourites. Mika’s voice is absolutely heavenly and there’s something comfortingly loyal in the story and following someone in their darkest place. I love the fierce, satisfying vocals and as a special detail the little choir makes me think of a group of sailor boys. One of the loveliest, most comforting songs on the album.

I went to Hell last night / followed you there, I was standing by your side / the saddest thing I’ve ever seen / made me angrier than I’ve ever been / but in the darkest place, a saving grace / after all we’ve been through / though it kills me to say this / there’s a little bit of God in you

Listening to My Name Is Michael Holbrook makes me wonder if any album in the future can possibly give me the similar kind of feelings. This 5th album is personal and revealing, brave and incredible. It goes directly to my heart. At the same time I look forward to the new creative period and seeing how new music will continue the story.

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