Jason Mraz abandons all attempts at pop-rap playfulness in favor of trying to revive easy-listening as an artform
If you'd like Jack Johnson better if he weren't such a negative nellie, or if Colbie Caillat would be up your alley if it weren't for her gangsta existential angst, then Jason Mraz's "Love Is a Four-Letter Word" is the unremittingly sunny, determinedly stress-free album for you.
Easy listening doesn't get any easier than Mraz's fourth album. The sprightlier Mraz of the mid-2000s has been kidnapped and replaced by a guy who has no use for pop-rap vocal rhythms or silly wordplay.
Mraz was never exactly hard-boiled, even back in the days when he was trying to be funny, but "Love" is so single-mindedly mellow it's almost as if the CD itself were constructed from recycled antidepressants, or maybe old Bread LPs.
If the long-dormant elevator music genre were an artform, Mraz would now be at the vanguard. That's almost intended as a compliment: It takes a certain artistic will power to keep things so subdued for 55 minutes and resist even the slightest hint of rocking out.
Sometimes the results are even pretty enough to half-justify an aesthetic that unwaveringly revolves around the four-letter words L-A-I-D and B-A-C-K. That's the case with a shimmering number that has a lonesome Mraz promising that he's "coming over tonight … I hope you notice I was never over you." (That's as close as the album comes to a negative sentiment, by the way.)
The string-drenched, acoustic-guitar-based sound is nothing if not tasteful, at least if you have an appreciation for the finer side of '70s AM soft-rock. But even if you have that nostalgic inclination, his positivity gets to be a bit much. "The world as I see it is a remarkable place/A beautiful house in a forest of stars in outer space," he sings, in what almost seems like a musical homage to the late Thomas Kinkade.
"Every man makes a difference and every mother's child is the same… Just know that wherever you go, you will always get back home…" There is even talk of harmonizing with birds.
After a while, all the daisy-tripping, self-help talk kind of makes you want to see Cat Stevens show up and slap some cynicism into him.
This must really be Opposite Week, because Train is concurrently releasing an album full of the corny playing around with words and rhymes that Mraz used to do, while Mraz has completely abandoned his beachside hip-hop tendencies to settle into sheer featherweight earnestness.
You can't accuse him of not going after and achieving a very specific vibe. But it's one best avoided while operating heavy machinery or realism.