Underneath his tongue-twisting wordplay, Jason Mraz fancies himself a loverman -- and given that his greatest success came from the sticky sentiment of "I'm Yours," who can blame him for thinking this way? Nevertheless, he's never made a full-blown makeout record until Love Is a Four Letter Word, an album steeped in '70s soul. Mraz doesn't neglect his acoustic guitar nor does he abandon his showy verbal gymnastics, but apart from a cut or two -- including "I Won't Give Up," the album's first single -- they're buried underneath stacks of luxurious strings and thick, insistent grooves, touches that tie the record together with elegance. Mr. A-Z has hinted at soul before but he's never placed music over words, a shift of emphasis that delivers great dividends. He can still be a nasally, hyperactive twit, too eager to succumb to clever-clever puns and quips, but there's an acknowledgment that even if he can't change who he is -- witness the terribly titled "Fred D Fixer," an ode to a grandfather who lived by his hands, not his wits -- he can build upon this foundation. If all he adds is color and flair, not some serious depth, that winds up being enough: by making alterations and affecting his pose, Mraz pushes himself into new territory, creating music that's perilously close to sounding seductive. What holds Love Is a Four Letter Word from actually being seductive is that Mraz seems more lech than Lothario -- there's always a sense that he's around for nothing longer than a night. But, as Love Is a Four Letter Word plays, Mraz can convince you that his pleasures are a bit more than fleeting. It may be a lie, but it sure sounds good as it's told.
Love Is a Four Letter Word Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine