Jason Mraz

Mr. A-Z

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In case you didn't catch the pun in the title of Jason Mraz's sophomore album, Mr. A-Z, the perpetually sophomoric singer/songwriter repeats it in the chorus of "Wordplay," the first single from this follow-up to his hit 2002 debut, Waiting for My Rocket to Come. It's a play on his last name, which is appropriate, because Jason Mraz is primarily concerned with two things: himself and sex. But even when he's talking about the latter, he fits the former into the equation -- "I've been working on getting you off, so get on board," for instance -- because he does consider himself to be quite a compelling presence. After all, he's "been a new sensation," as he declares on "Wordplay," which is likely the first single to ever be about an artist planning to beat the sophomore slump by having a hit with the very tune you're currently hearing. In this song, Mr. A-Z himself claims that "it's all about the wordplay" because "I am the wizard of oohs." Now if Mr. Wizard was really all about the wordplay -- that is, all about rhyming games and clever juxtapositions -- he would realize that his self-anointed title doesn't sound like "The Wizard of Oz" (and no amount of musical quotations from the film's theme song will change that), it sounds like he's the "wizard of ooze." That's a far cry from "Till I step on the brakes to get out of her clutches," to randomly pick an example from Elvis Costello, a songwriter who truly does relish playing with words (and was more of an outsider than this self-proclaimed "geek"), but his awkward wordplay does fit, because Mraz does come across like the Wizard of Ooze. Even when he's trying to be romantic he inadvertently gets sleazy, whether it's on the mock-operatic crooning that closes "Mr. Curiosity" or how "damn" is softly cooed in the chorus of the absurd "Plane," where he takes consolation that even if his flight crashes, he'll at least be able to see his lover's house from here. Not exactly romantic mood music, but Mraz prefers matters of the flesh anyway, rapidly spitting out lyrics about hooking up, such as "I can taste you all over my face," that make Dave Matthews' "hike up your skirt a little more" seem classy. Of course, Mraz's loose-limbed, litely funky, litely jazzy pop recalls Matthews and all of the post-Aware Records singer/songwriters who followed in his wake, but Mraz stands apart from the pack in how he's absolutely smitten with his ability to make words come out of his mouth. He loves to have his words spiral up and down on a cascade of moon/June/spoon rhymes and repetition. He loves to have them spill out uncontrollably, cramming as many words into a phrase as possible, unless he's diving for that dirty joke, as he does on "Geek in the Pink" (which has a bad single entendre title in the first place), when he stretches out "I can save you from unoriginal dum-dums/Who would care if you come...plete him or not" -- a move that isn't nearly as funny as Tim Curry's Frank N Furter's prolonged delivery of "anticipation" in "Sweet Transvestite," and not delivered with nearly as much lip-smacking zeal, either. That's because Mraz, ironically enough for a guy who specializes in music designed for college parties, doesn't have much of an inclusive vibe to his music; he's so into himself and what he can do that he doesn't bother to invite anybody else along for the ride. All of these traits were apparent on Waiting for My Rocket to Come, but with a little success underneath his belt, Mraz is content to indulge himself to his heart's content on Mr. A-Z, constructing songs that ride a groove with the sole purpose of giving himself a place to sing and kind of rap about the glories of himself, or to make juvenile jokes. For those who enjoyed the wise-ass undercurrent of his debut, this will be a delight. For those who enjoyed "The Remedy (I Won't Worry)," there will be too much narcissistic tomfoolery here to make this enjoyable. For those who never understood the appeal of Jason Mraz in the first place, Mr. A-Z will make them realize that they've really been taking John Mayer for granted.

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