Mika Penniman called his debut a "Marmite record," referring to the strong response, either positive or negative, often elicited by the savory British spread. Remarkably, the metaphor provides a fitting description of Mika's larger-than-life pop extravaganza Life in Cartoon Motion. That comparison, however, deserves further explanation.
The album isn't brilliant or horrible, but each song tends to fall into one category or the other. In other words, as Cartoon Motion progresses, you might love one and loathe the next.
Mika truly succeeds when he crafts the right combination of dramatic exuberance and creative restraint. Lead single "Grace Kelly," for example, is an outrageously irresistible and infectious pop gem, yet many have been turned off by Mika's vocal somersaults and flamboyant charm. If you fall into the latter category, you probably won't enjoy anything else Mika has to offer, even if there are several triumphs elsewhere on the album.
"Billy Brown" is a wonderfully understated, Elton John-style narrative that tells the tale of a heterosexual married man's gay affair, and "Relax (Take It Easy)" channels the flawless electro-pop of the Scissor Sisters without being completely unoriginal.
When Mika flounders, the results are often disastrous. Second single "Love Today" finds itself hijacked by Mika's otherwise appealing falsetto, which morphs into an unflattering shriek and transforms the song into something altogether intolerable.
Other sore spots include the disco-lite "Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)," which includes an admirable sentiment but fails to distinguish itself otherwise. He also struggles with sappy ballad "Any Other World," which tries to live up to the gorgeous "Happy Ending" but isn't nearly as climactic or captivating.
We recommend embracing the good bits of Cartoon Motion, but don't expect to play it consistently from start to finish. Really, like Mika pointed out, you'll probably be split fifty-fifty.