By Noah Hubbell
By Leslie Simon
By Brad Lopez
By Tom Murphy
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By Inkoo Kang
By Dave Herrerra
By Josiah M. Hesse
In his videos and appearances on VH1's seemingly endless parade of pop-culture nostalgia shows, singer-songwriter Jason Mraz comes across as bubbly and effervescent. Today, however, he's apparently lost his fizz.
Granted, he's got his reasons. His visit to scenic Rochester, New York, has been interrupted by an interview, and because his phone doesn't work in the building where he's staying, he's got to walk the streets on a particularly chilly morning while being quizzed. And to make matters worse, his interrogator has the poor taste to bring up the mostly nasty notices garnered to date by his latest disc, Mr. A-Z.
"I don't think people are specifically out for blood or that they're after me," Mraz says -- but his dour tone suggests he's not so sure.
A Virginian by way of New York and San Diego, Mraz has never been a critics' fave, yet he's found a sizable audience thanks to bouncy ditties such as "Remedy (I Won't Worry)," a hit from 2002's Waiting for My Rocket to Come, his major-label debut. Fans also celebrate him for his sunny outlook and proclivity for honesty even when the truth is uncool. For instance, he speaks freely about the years he spent performing in musical theater and admits that the first big show he went to as a kid starred Grammy pariahs Milli Vanilli and Young MC, of "Bust a Move" fame. "I always ask people what their first concert was, because I think it's definitely reflective of what they do," he notes. "And Milli Vanilli was a lip-synching act, but they made melodic, funky pop, and they had a rapper opening -- and, gosh, that's exactly what I do these days. I do melodic, funky pop, and I rap sometimes."
He journals on his website, too, but following an Associated Press story built around a casual remark in praise of smoking, he's cut way back and now wonders if sharing every thought that crosses his mind is such a good idea, considering how often he's misunderstood. Take "Wordplay," Mr. A-Z's most prominent tune. Mraz put the song together as a lighthearted "writing exercise" designed to clear his head of concerns he had in advance of his second disc's release. But a self-deprecating line about a "sophomore slump" handed evaluators an irresistible weapon, as well as providing them with a gift-wrapped excuse not to dig deeper. "Most of the reviews I read seemed to just review the single," he says. "And when they heard that it was this three-chord power-rock song that mentioned sophomore slumps, they were like, ŒOkay, this album's going to suck.'
"People review a shitload of records, and they don't get too much time to spend with them before they start typing," he concedes. "But I wish that if an album is unliked by reviewers, they'd just move on. I think they should write about albums that they like, so you end up reading why certain albums are good."
That's one way for Mraz to get his fizz back.