Mika, ‘The Boy Who Knew Too Much’
Pop’s gayest big post-pubescent boy – still probing childish innocence with songs like “We Are Golden,” a slyly-written bubble of fun, kid choir included – wants you to know that you might not know about you-know-what. The Brit’s twice-flamboyant follow-up to 2007’s “Life in Cartoon Motion” is always poking us with little coy clues about his sexuality – the queer-leaned lyrics (“I live for glitter, not you”), a Disney bit, the “Walk Like a Man” sample on the keyboard-spastic “Good Gone Girl” and even a channeling of George Michael on “Touches You.” A lot of it’s as animated as his “Cartoon” LP, but stands above becoming mere novelty songs that ear-wormed in, and then squirmed right out. This time, burn-out ballads (he squeaks his way through “I See You”) aside, many of the songs quietly sneak in with a subtler charm, and less of the silly, slip-on-by stupidity of songs like his debut’s “Lollipop.” Even with deeper themes on tracks like “Dr. John” or the campy “Toy Boy,” Mika tries to make every person gay: “Rain” is a discoed, made-for-rollerskating romp, “Blue Eyes,” a cheer-up Latin-inspired shuffle, and the lounge-y, orchestra-swelled “Pick Up Off the Floor” encourages you to clean up your broken, splattered heart. Mika keeps his sophomore set from suffering the same fate.
Mason Jennings, ‘Blood of Man’
See & Hear
8 p.m. Oct. 24
Magic Bag, Ferndale
Mason Jennings likes it raw: screechy feedback, lo-fi sound, a cracked-voice wail – the folk-rocker’s unpolished, bummed-out latest is practically a really good rough draft. And that works congruously – but not always successfully – with the gloomy and gritty themes, like loss, addiction and war. All are strong poetic musings, and often achingly performed with Jennings’ subtle Bruce Springsteen tone and an intimately hushed voice. He doesn’t hold back, writing about life’s unfathomable blows: “I ran down the hallway when I saw what he did/And found our little bitty baby dead in her crib.” Think it can’t get worse? It does. “The Field,” one of the more crushing – and easily one of the greatest – modern-day war songs, is from the perspective of a parent whose kid is serving overseas. Part protest song, part tragedy, Jennings – a parent himself – sounds desperate, hurt and angry, and even if you can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a child to the war, you don’t have to. Jennings takes us there. The LP’s distortions are occasionally more distracting than complimenting – “City of Ghosts” could’ve benefited from a smoother, bloop-less sound – but it rarely compromises his dark, louder meditations on life, which would translate just fine without some of the rugged production.
Alan Cumming, ‘I Bought a Blue Car Today’
There’s an undeniable affable charm – even through a cuss-laced love song, “Beautiful” – to the actor’s solo debut. Aside from Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” and maybe Cyndi Lauper’s string-slathered “Shine,” these lesser-known songs bridge rock opera, cabaret and theater with his fluid, Scottish-accented voice. Somehow even a Dolly Parton/Mika-merged cover strangely works.
Patty Loveless, ‘Mountain Soul II’
Sequels are tricky, especially when the original is such a masterpiece, like this revered country treasure’s “Mountain Soul” was. With a bit less bluegrass, Loveless’ follow-up to one of many pinnacles in her decades-long career is a solid enough success, with peaks like “Busted” and “Bramble and the Rose,” but comes up short with some rudimentary country love ballads, like “Half Over You.” A diamond in her crown? Almost.
Human Nature, ‘Reach Out’
As a Vegas show, this all-male Aussie group reviving Motown favorites works. But on paper, or rather on disc, the redundant concept is about as pointless as listening to it. Celine Dion’s praises them (and they’re all solid singers, mind you), but after being subjected to their copycat take of the Jackson 5’s “ABC,” my heart’s going on, and so are my ears … to the originals. (Available exlusively at Barnes & Noble.)