'Love Is a Four Letter Word' falls short

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Pop heartthrob Jason Mraz returns with his fourth album, Love Is a Four Letter Word. (Photo courtesy of Jason Mraz).

Since 2002, lover-boy Jason Mraz has become a part of an acoustic beach-rock scene shared by artists like Jack Johnson and, more recently, Eddie Vedder. Mraz relies on simplicity in his music, using straight-to-the-point lyrical content and soothing, soft-rock arrangements, to create multiple radio hits. Having spent some time away from music, Mraz returns with Love Is a Four Letter Word, his follow-up to 2008’s We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.

It’s undeniable that Mraz knows how to write a catchy pop song. His down-by-the-beach acoustic guitar and luscious, ukulele-driven melodies have spawned hits such as “The Remedy,” “I’m Yours” and “Lucky.” But they’ve come with a price: His lyrics are often laughably cliche and akin to high school pickup lines. This seems to be the case as well with the singer-songwriter’s latest release.

For example, album-opener “The Freedom Song” would be great if it did not have lines like, “When I feel good, I sing,” or “We’ve got some life to bring / We’ve got some joy in this thing.” It’s just so banal — the listener could imagine such lines being sung in a fast-food commercial or as a corporate slogan.

“In Your Hands” further epitomizes Mraz’s songwriting mediocrity. “I love making breakfast for someone, instead of me,” or “It’s like diving into a pool without water and praying for rain.” It’s unintentionally laugh-out-loud material that undermines the moody atmosphere of the arrangements that accompany it. It’s as if Mraz is trying to use every break-up cliche possible in under five minutes, hoping that his lover will fall for his self-proclaimed wittiness. But it’s not clever at all — these are the reasons the girl left.

There’s an imbalance between the lyrical content and the music that supports it. Take “Be Honest,” featuring the lovely songstress Inara George. The song has the potential to be this generation’s “Girl From Ipanema.” Its tropical, bossa nova feel is pina colada friendly, but when Mraz opens his mouth you can’t help but down as many drinks as you can in the hopes that the singer’s lyrics will fade into incomprehensibility.

It’s great that Mraz is all lovey-dovey, but it comes off as completely artificial. There’s no heart and soul behind the album when there should be, considering the album’s name. At least contemporary Jack Johnson balances out his cliches with introspective beach narratives and Vedder embodies all that is right with his ukulele riffs and insightful lyrical content. Mraz is at the bottom of the totem pole, satisfied in making songs that sacrifice originality for radio appeal.

Love Is a Four Letter Word is just bad. If you can find an instrumentals-only version, go for that, but if lyrics are included, do yourself a favor and skip this one.

Printed on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 as: Cliches fill Mraz's latest release