I’ve been listening to The Origin of Love, the new Mika album, on Spotify (if I decide I really like it, I’ll buy the CD). But, what’s interesting is the bonus version that has commentary for all the tracks. At first, I was in love with this idea. One of the things that fascinates me about music and the arts is the artists themselves and how they think and work. Mika’s two-to-five minute comments on each track offer insight into how he created this album. For example, he says the track “Underwater” was inspired by Elton John and a Levi’s commercial. Mika says producer Nick Littlemore (of Empire of the Sun) was constantly talking about Elton John piano lines because he had been recording an album with him. “It was kind of pissing me off,” he says. “It just made me jealous. So I sat down and was like you know, what if I played something like that.” So, Mika began playing a piano riff and Littlemore started singing words on top. “I was like actually, that’s really cool cause you’re not going with the rhythm, you’re going across the rhythm and it just felt right.” Mika says he wanted the song to “feel like that Michel Gondry Levi’s commercial that I remember when I was a teenager.”
I don’t really see/hear the connection, except the “underwater” theme, but I love that I now know what was going through Mika’s mind when he wrote this song. Yet, I’m always weary of knowing too much when I listen to a song or album or take in any piece of art. I don’t necessarily want the artist’s intentions to direct my experience. I prefer to take in an album without knowing anything. Listen to it over and over and feel it through my own personal experiences. And then later, I can do my research and read articles and interviews with the musicians. But I often find that so hard to do, because I am constantly craving insights into the minds of artists. And sometimes, it’s necessary to understand the background of a piece art, especially when considering art that addresses political issues.
I appreciate when artists such as Mika share their process and inspirations, but I also appreciate those artists who keep it to themselves. Sometimes it’s just about you and the art. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes, it’s both.
I definitely recommend listening to this commentary, especially for fans of Mika. You hear how he combines Beck and the musical Annie and how a cab driver inspired his song “Heroes,” which he was told to remove from the album. But maybe listen to the album on your own first.