Over two decades into his career, Jason Mraz isn’t afraid to explore new ideas. On his latest album, Mystical Magical Rhythmical Radical Ride, he incorporates dance and disco influences that are executed with varying degrees of success. Reuniting with Swedish hitmaker Martin Terefe, the producer behind 00s hits I’m Yours and Lucky, the album is colourful and lighthearted, as you’d expect from its playful title and artwork. Ultimately though Mraz goes too far out of his comfort zone, with the disco-style songs mostly proving to be disappointments. He’s at his strongest on the slower, more sentimental songs in keeping with the style that gave him so many hits earlier in his career.
Getting Started opens the album with the ambient sound of a singing bowl, which lingers through the song’s first verse. The track livens up during the chorus when a softly thumping kick drum and bass kick in, later joined by a lightly strummed funk guitar. Nostalgic strings grow more prominent as the track develops and reach a climax during the bridge, as Mraz triumphantly proclaims “I always knew I would make it.” Disco Sun uses a similarly subtle funk instrumentation, beginning with gentle percussion and a breezy violin which are joined by more instruments as the song slowly unfurls. While the song gets more energetic by the end, it certainly doesn’t reach a point anywhere near danceable enough to justify Mraz’s repeated call to “get down low like an animal”.
Other songs on the album don’t use these disco elements so subtly and often end up feeling gimmicky and immature. I Feel Like Dancing feels like a failed attempt to create a catchy disco-pop in the vein of Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop The Feeling. Terefe tries his hardest to include all the hallmarks of your stereotypical disco track – the Chic-inspired bass line, the hand claps, the horns and so on – but ultimately it feels as though it could’ve been created by an AI. Lyrics such as “I like to pop and lock” have the energy of a dad trying to be cool and embarrassing his kids. Overall it’s certainly inoffensive, but it’s not good. Feels Good Too is a slight improvement, with a similar positive energy but feeling much looser as an effect of the song’s floaty synth chords. However the song still feels as though it would be at home in a low budget Disney Channel movie.
Mraz is at his most comfortable when he sticks with the sentimental songwriting that defined his earlier career. The highlight of the record is definitely the lush R&B single Pancakes & Butter. An acoustic guitar and Mraz’s falsetto vocals serve as the foundation of the track, accompanied by dreamlike strings and synths. Lines like “if you need love, I got your back. If you need lunch, I got your snack” are fun and lighthearted, keeping with the colourful spirit of the album.
In recent years, the high-budget disco of artists like Jessie Ware have raised the bar of what constitutes a good disco record. Mystical Magical Rhythmical Radical Ride falls short of this – the tracks which are more restrained are somewhat enjoyable but it’s very clearly the product of someone who’s never dabbled in this genre before. However, Pancakes & Butter shows that Mraz is still an immensely talented songwriter when he sticks with what he knows best.