Earlier this month British pop singer-songwriter MIKA dropped his latest album, My Name Is Michael Holbrook. I’ve been happily singing along with MIKA hits since 2007’s Life in Cartoon Motion, and my brother and I have threatened friends on multiple occasions that we’d do a karaoke duet of “Grace Kelly.” I also have fond memories of singing “Rain” at the top of my lungs with my sister and brother on our way to or from the airport one night. Somehow I completely missed The Origin of Love (2012), but No Place in Heaven (2015) was my soundtrack for driving to my summer internship at a publishing house. Needless to say, I was excited about MIKA’s newest release and have been listening to it moderately obsessively.
I will leave it to the good folks at Pitchfork and Riff for all the musical analysis, from the nods to Queen in “Tiny Love” to the rapid stylistic morphing from Euro lounge in “Sanremo” to dreamy orchestral in “Tiny Love Reprise.” For me, what I have always enjoyed about MIKA is his ability to capture whole stories in very small spaces, and his well-exercised vocal and emotional ranges—all of which are on display in his latest album.
When I think of MIKA’s storytelling, songs like “Blame It on the Girls” and “Good Wife” come to mind. Apparently MIKA must be prone to people telling him their sob stories, and in just a few lines of verse, he can give me a strong image of a man grieving his divorce or complaining about the tiny problems in his first-world life. My Name Is Michael Holbrook is full of these quickly drawn stories, though nowadays MIKA seems to be a participant rather than an observer in the stories, such as the Italian getaway in “Sanremo” or finding his sister (“Paloma”) after she fell out of a window and was badly injured.
The emotional and sonic range of his latest album delivers as well. In the gentle piano and strings of “Paloma” and the stripped-back “Blue”—which features MIKA’s voice barely accompanied by pads and harmony lines—MIKA explores disappointment, sadness, and trauma. But he sings just as comfortably on the bombastic “Platform Ballerinas,” a female-empowerment dance anthem, and “Stay High,” the penultimate track which turns the meditative lyrics from opener “Tiny Love” into an insistent, upbeat promise of forward progress.
At the end of the day, my two favorite tracks are “Dear Jealousy” and “Tiny Love Reprise.” In his open letter to jealousy, MIKA discusses jealousy’s destructive force on his personal and professional lives (“I can’t even write a song / If you’re standing over me”). I’ve been becoming more and more conscious of envy in my life lately, so this one hits me personally, never mind that the song is slinky and catchy and features, near the end, an apocalyptic-sounding background choir. “Tiny Love Reprise” is the track that blows me away, though, deftly tying together the relational and emotional themes of the album in just over four minutes. Featuring his sister, a sweeping strings section, and an adorable British boys’ choir, the final track leaves listeners with the assurance that the love we each experience in our lives, no matter how insignificant it looks to others, is enough.