Hear Me Out: Jason Mraz, Weird Al Yankovic

By Chris Azzopardi

Jason Mraz, 'Yes!'

Here to make you feel better about your life is Jason Mraz, the Oprah of white-boy balladry. He's got your "remedy," and it's called "Yes!," an album of life-affirming mantras expressed simply by song name: "Rise, "You Can Rely On Me," "Shine," and on and on. It's true, Mraz is Mraz-ing us with his lovey-dovies, which is just what he's been doing since he dropped the reggae and wordplay. When "Lucky" and "I'm Yours" sent him and his fedora into superstardom, he wasn't about to go back to his scrappy hipster ways (though didn't you just love him then?). Because if anyone can sell you the warm and fuzzies, it's the "geek in pink" - the same hopeless romantic who gives them to you when you're slow dancing at a wedding. "Love Someone" fits that sensitive-guy-with-a-guitar role, but so does most of the album: "Best Friend" is another ode to a confidante, "3 Things" is self-help in list form and "Out of My Hands" imparts a let-it-go moral. What's most telling about his career at this juncture is that he's covering a Boyz II Men song (his a cappella take on "It's Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday" is actually quite lovely). For maximum swoon effect, the adult-contemporary fluff of "Yes!" - recorded with girl group Raining Jane - is full of honeyed acoustics and sentiments as subtle as one of those inspirational chain emails you get from your grandma. Grade: C+

Weird Al Yankovic, 'Mandatory Fun'

Four decades of using Top 40 to mock the zeitgeist and Weird Al Yankovic still knows how to make a funny. Sticking it to digital-age satirists (yeah, YouTubers, you didn't brilliantly bridge "Blurred Lines" and "Schoolhouse Rock!," so there), the purveyor of pop-music parody returns with his 14th collection, a standout in a career known for lampooning cultural obsessions. According to Weird Al, nowadays those are leftovers ("Foil," his take on Lorde's "Royals"), American woes ("First World Problems") and the ever-increasing persecution from the grammar police ("Word Crimes"). Wisecracking that, "Your prose is dopey / Think you should only / Write in emoji," Yankovic's attack on Webster wrongdoers isn't just clever repartee - it's also a dorky little ditty so well-written (and yes, grammatically correct), you'll be thinking "dangling participles" even when it's Robin Thicke singing about "blurred lines." Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" becomes a boastful plug for a skilled repairman ("I got 99 problems but a switch ain't one"), and on "Tacky," his rewrite of Pharrell's "Happy," he hilariously rags on faux pas. A nine-minute comedy epic performed like an Elton John piano jam, "Jackson Park Express" is that romantic flash-forward you have with yourself about somebody you haven't actually met. Ridiculous inner dialogues that turn from cute to sick - yeah, no, but when it's Weird Al's fantasy, that's something we can all agree is "mandatory fun." Grade: B+

Also Out

Ed Sheeran, 'X'

Even if Ed Sheeran strips the "coffeehouse" sound from his venturesome Rick Rubin-produced sophomore LP, he's not stupid - Sheeran's still the boy you can bring home to mom. At least for now. Because even though the folk-pop bloke keeps it low key on those Starbucks ballads (see: "One," "Tenerife Sea" and "Photograph"), Taylor Swift's part-time scribe pseudo raps on "The Man" and, on the Justin Timberlake-inspired "Sing," gets down like he's ready to take his coffee to the club.

First Aid Kit, 'Stay Gold'

Harmonies so tightly woven not even air could pass through - that's why there's so much love for Swedish sister duo Johanna and Klara Soderberg, known collectively as First Aid Kit. That emotional intimacy was unmistakable on their last album, "The Lion's Roar," but less so here on their follow-up, a bigger-sounding outing that emphasizes the psychedelia of their pretty, '70s-centric folk-pop to solid-but-inferior effect.

Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com.
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