Love Is a Four Letter Word, the fourth studio release by singer/songwriter Jason Mraz, addresses the rather serious themes of lost love with Mraz’s signature unquenchable optimism, leaving the listener to wonder if this is a genuine recovery or simply a case of denial.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t expect Mraz to lapse into deep melancholia just because he’s singing about relationships gone south—and neither should you. That’s just not his style, and it would definitely seem fake if he did so. Mraz, who was recently described by Rolling Stone as “a Gen-Y version of Jimmy Buffett, with booze and boats replaced by veganism and yoga,” has an easy-rock/folk musical vibe that sometimes fluctuates between light jazz and reggae, and can’t help but make one think of warm summer evenings and mostly sunny skies. And if you ever have seen Mraz live, he’s known almost as much for his onstage comedy quips as for his music—it’s just a part of who he is.
So no, Love… is not a record for the lovelorn to lick their wounds to. Rather, it’s a record for the end of the grieving process, to make you smile, relax, and look at the days ahead rather than the days behind. And that’s a good thing, really.
Even so…broken relationships are painful, and it’s the apparent skirting of that honest emotion that leaves me wondering just a little about whether this record takes a complete journey. You don’t get over this kind of thing by just shaking it off, grabbing a spritzer and going, “Hey, man, everything’s cool.” You have to process the emotion somehow, even if you don’t stay in that place. So while (as I said) I don’t expect Mraz to wallow in the throes of grief, it’s what the record doesn’t address thematically that leaves me scratching my head a little bit.
Musically speaking, there aren’t any real groundbreaking moments here, although there are definitely some cool grooves. Opening tracks “The Freedom Song” and “Living In the Moment” echo the reggae-tinged guitar work that made “I’m Yours” such a hit, and the title of the jazzy “5/6” is a direct reference to the complex time changes in the song—pretty cool. And I simply dare you not to sing along to the “la-la-las” in “Everything Is Sound.”
Incidentally, the deluxe version of Love Is A Four Letter Word also includes the four songs from Mraz’s live EP Live Is a Four Letter Word (released digitally in Februrary), as well as a music video for the song “I Won’t Give Up.” And if you have a Spotify account and stream the album there, you can also hear a track-by-track commentary by Jason Mraz.
Overall, Love…is a pleasant listening experience, much like Mraz’s other works. Just don’t expect any raw emotional moments just because of the album’s theme.
ALBUM RATING: 3 stars (out of five)