Two years after the release of his previous effort Love Is A Four Letter Word, Jason Mraz has returned with his fifth studio album Yes!, and it lines up nicely with his signature musical direction characterized by a blend of folk and pop. Leaving the days of reggae-inspired hits behind, Mraz comes at us with more conviction than ever. The focus of his latest effort largely hinges on an all-inclusive, universal approach to songwriting, and it definitely shines in that aspect.
Relatable and mature, several tracks document Mraz’s attempt at appealing to the most human emotion of all – love. No surprise here, it’s been his strong point since the days when “I’m Yours” was the revered choice of every other song cover that went up on YouTube. Recorded with female folk-rock group Raining Jane, Mraz’s take on music has taken a slight turn with Yes! as he adopts a more laid-back feel and chooses to have it almost fully acoustic. The end result we get is a full set of breezy feel-good anthems, crafted in such an organic manner to bring calm and joy to your soul. You can literally hear how much the music means to him just from a few tracks, and his message of positivity emerges in such an authentic way that you can only expect it from the man alone.
Probably one of the catchiest tracks on the record, his newest single “Love Someone” sees him resort to the same formula of simplicity that once propagated him to the heights of mainstream appeal. The words “Shining stars all seem to congregate around your face / When you love someone it comes back to you” might be borderline corny, but heartfelt nonetheless. When accompanied by the lovely rhythms and harmonies of Raining Jane, all that’s left to feel is the soothing vibe emanating from the music in that infectious manner that he seems to have mastered over the years.
Taking cues from the single, songs like “A World With You” follow the same path in terms of heartfelt lyrical content, “Who knows where we’re going, who knows what we’ll find / I want to see a world with you”. The track does highlight the use of beautiful acoustic tones, perfectly aligned with the atmospheric fill-ins in the background. Similarly in “Hello, You Beautiful Thing”, he goes back to his storytelling style of songwriting and is essentially a celebration of all things beautiful in life, bringing us to a place where Mraz is able to find his inner peace.
Fortunately, Yes! does present several ventures outside of the mellow reflective love song category. “Everywhere” is quite possibly the most up-tempo number, with reverberated electric guitar fills and energetic beats. For those who miss the days of “Geek In The Pink” or “Curbside Prophet”, this is probably as close as we’re going to get. On the other hand, the final track “Shine” is perhaps the one song on the record with no acoustic guitars in sight, and it definitely stands out for its emotional depth and rustic feel.
However, as the veteran singer-songwriter takes the path of universality and simplicity, he does tread on the fine line between vagueness and abstract emotion. Some of the songs may come across as lacking in depth, such as “3 Things” in which the lyrics and melody make it seem like a cheesy campfire sing-along, with the only saving grace being its musical arrangement.
We can hear that the crooner is definitely settled in his chosen style, but some songs on the album do make you question whether there’s a difference between stagnancy and truly maturing into your most comfortable genre. Raining Jane has certainly done a splendid job on the record, but perhaps the lush arrangements sound a little too similar to each other as a whole, to the point that it almost stifles the space for sonic creativity.
Whatever your judgment may be, there’s no denying that Jason Mraz continues to be inspiring in his own way, not just in terms of music, but with joyful perspectives expressed through his compositions. “You Can Rely On Me” is the kind of song you expect to hear at graduation ceremonies or weddings with its varied instrumentation and catchy chorus, while “Long Drive” brims with sensitivity and heartwarming intimacy. There’s definitely something in Yes! for everyone, and perhaps that was the exact intention from the start, which not many others can claim they have achieved. In an industry so wonderfully diverse, there’s always a place for Mraz and this record is his statement that he has found peace, joy, and most importantly, freedom wherever that place is.