Mika has flirted with dance music and electronic sounds since Life in Cartoon Motion, but on The Origin of Love he commits to it in a much bigger way. This time, Mika worked with dance and pop producers such as Benny Benassi, Pharrell Williams, Klas Åhlund, and Empire of the Sun's Nick Littlemore, as well as his The Boy Who Knew Too Much collaborator Greg Wells, and a song from the album's writing sessions, "Gang Bang," even ended up on Madonna's MDNA album. However, bringing the dance elements to the fore doesn't really suit his music overall, and the largely electronic arrangements lack the warmth, charm, and variety of his two previous albums. Often, The Origin of Love ends up reaffirming why most dance hits don't have the kind of clever, intricate lyrics that are Mika's specialty, and at times it feels like the sounds surrounding his words and melodies are competing with them instead of supporting them. Even on his other albums, Mika's style walked a fine line between exuberant and grating, and with less nuance surrounding him, he leans more toward the latter instead of the former. His falsetto, coupled with the relentless keyboards on the Benassi track "Stardust," are a bit overwhelming, and while it's a catchy song with hit potential, it just doesn't show off Mika's skills at their best. "Make You Happy" mixes together several dance-inspired elements -- including a vocodered chorus that sounds like a pleading robot -- that never quite come together (however, the "Miami Edit" of this song has a calmer arrangement that better serves its affectionate and frustrated impulses). The Origin of Love fares better when it sticks closer to Mika's pure pop roots. "Celebrate," the Littlemore-Williams collaboration that served as the album's lead single and hinted at its electro leanings, is still a standout: it fuses the kind of slick beats Williams is known for with Littlemore's euphoric, post-Daft Punk dance-pop, but keeps Mika's sound and persona at the forefront at all times. The album's other highlights show that he's still a keen and witty singer/songwriter, especially when it comes to love's more confusing aspects. He has a darker attitude toward the subject than perhaps he's had before, comparing love to vices like smoking and drinking on the title track and the Buggles-esque new wave of "Love You When I'm Drunk." His character sketches are still sharp, too, with "Lola," "Emily," and "Popular Song" showcasing his knack for pairing detailed lyrics with ingratiating hooks. While it's odd that The Origin of Love doesn't work as well in practice as it might have in theory, it still has enough bright moments to please most fans.
© Heather Phares /TiVo