A month ahead of releasing his fifth studio album "YES!," Jason Mraz joked to Billboard about his arsenal of adult-contemporary hits. "I used to come out onstage and joke, 'Are you guys ready to light rock?!'" he quipped. "I'm going to adult contemporary their asses off!" More than a decade after his debut album, Mr. A-Z is still crooning our pants off, but now offers a refreshing twist or two on his mellow-leaning pop.
"YES!" is being billed as the singer songwriter's first "purely acoustic" album — a decision likely influenced from the 36-year-old's willingness to keep fans happy while evolving as an artist. Bringing in all-female, rock-folk band Raining Jane as backup shook up Mraz's formula, helping him find a more intimate sound instead of the anthemic, upbeat tracks from 2012's "Love Is a Four Letter Word."
But the results aren't any less thrilling. "YES!" boasts gems to soundtrack a late summer night, a beach bonfire, a long drive or a relaxing night at home. The standalone success of each track was heightened in "Mraz Mondays," where the singer-songwriter revealed a new album track every week after revealing first single "Love Someone" in mid-May.
While the 14-track set can get tiresome in one sitting, there's a more important place for "YES!" in the catalog of a singer staying in his lane, but eager to take the next step. "What's ironic is that I don't listen to my kind of music," Mraz also added last month. "But for some reason, when I sit down to make music, that's what it is. I'd love to compose songs like Radiohead or Wilco, but I have what I got." And what he's got, now, is an invigorating change-up record that shines in an already impressive discography.
Which songs on "YES!" are worth exclaiming about? Check out our track-by-track review of Jason Mraz's latest album.
1. "Rise" – Soft, warm strings coax the listener into turning up the volume and getting comfortable with "YES!" Piano and a choir of Raining Jane singers are added to the mix to set the album's acoustic tone.
2. "Love Someone"
The calming lead single "Love Someone" is the summer song that you don't blast from your car, but instead soundtracks a night of summer romance. The hushed ballad opens with a reverberating sitar, and acoustic guitar strums back Mraz's soft love poems: "Love is a funny thing / Whenever I give it, it comes back to me / And it's wonderful to be giving with my whole heart / As my heart receives."
3. "Hello, You Beautiful Thing"
A happy-go-lucky track and the first time we really get to hear Raining Jane, and their spot-on harmonies, via the call-and-response hook. The skipping song could certainly work as a second official single from "YES!"
4. "Long Drive"
This lush track begins with a hushed intro before moving into its heavy percussion and sitar-embellished production. By the 1:30 mark, the listener has crashed into the soaring chorus, as the melodramatic lyrics ("Your hand on my hand / The thought of arriving / Kind of feels like dying") evoke memories of an all-too-important high-school romance.
5. "Everywhere" – For a "purely-acoustic" album, this stirring, kick drum-heavy song may be the record's rockiest moment. The subject matter of being "everything in everywhere" recalls Clay Aiken's infamously creepy single "Invisible," but Mraz's take is inherently more cute.
6. "Best Friend" – Despite lacking much of a chorus, the relaxing cut stands out for its lovely theme: "Yes I feel my life is better / And so is the world we're livin' in / I'm thankful for the time I spent / With my best friend."
7. "Quiet" – True to its name, "Quiet" is a soft song opening with echoing vocals that at first sound like Mraz and his guitar cozied up to laptop speakers for a single-take recording. Soon enough, subtle piano chords, percussion and harmonies are added to the blend. While hints of country music's ubiquitous steel guitar have creeped into quick moments throughout "YES!," the twangy strings are given the full spotlight here, with a banjo later added into the bridge.
8. "Out of My Hands" - A folky number with a distinct SoCal sound. The dissonant harmonies on the twee-heavy post-chorus could be heard on your favorite folk-rock band's latest record.
9. "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday"
The a cappella opening is another welcome sonic shift on the album, while Mraz's vocals shine among a chorus of Raining Jane.
10. "3 Things" – With a rather melancholy opening ("There are there are three things I do when my life falls apart / Number one is cry my eyes out"), cut No. 10 soon morphs into an upbeat, summery track that mixes positive, self-help slogans with strumming guitar and mandolin on its singalong chorus.
11. "You Can Rely on Me"
Another encouraging anthem that gets a bit of soulful flavor from touches of organ peppered throughout the arrangement. With no gender pronouns and ambiguity about whether he's singing to a lover or friend, "You Can Rely on Me" is another universal track that could be championed as the modern-day version of Ben E. King's "Stand by Me."
12. "Back to the Earth" – Rooster crows open the track along with Jason's lighthearted scatting over a ukulele, recalling his omnipresent 2008 single "I'm Yours." In the same vein as "Quiet," the simple, carefree track is another ode to going back to basics: "Whenever my head starts to hurt / Before it goes from feeling bad to feeling worse / I turn off my phone, I get down low and put my hands in the dirt."
13. "A World With You" – With ominous steel guitar and sparse guitar strums, "A World With You" is Mraz's best attempt at country balladry without the twang and alcohol-inspired lyricism. The romantic lines ("Let's move to Paris and get ourselves a loft / Let's live in squalor and spend all cost / Let's throw caution to the wind and start over again") resonate, and the focus on Mraz's voice is sure to please longtime supporters.
14. "Shine" – The album's final track is also its most psychedelic, with heavy sitar, tribal drums, hand-claps and folklore lyrics personifying the sun, moon and sky. Despite its far-out sound and subject matter, the story is actually one of the album's most beautiful, likely a metaphor to a relationship where one person needs a little extra loving, topped off by Mraz repeating the mantra "I will shine on you."