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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Mika blasts his positivity at the misanthropes

The 'Grace Kelly' singer is in persistent good cheer and hard to resist at a Wiltern performance.

February 13, 2008|Mikael Wood | Special to The Times

In his song "Grace Kelly," a No. 1 hit last year in Britain, Mika boasts, "I could be anything you like." It's a claim backed up by his kaleidoscopic debut, "Life in Cartoon Motion," on which the 24-year-old Londoner (the son of a Lebanese mother and an American father) mashes together musical styles the way Baz Luhrmann combines dramatic traditions in his movies. Into glam? Broadway? Stadium rock? Mika's got you covered.

Like Luhrmann, Mika is a state-of-the-art showman; he uses sensory overload not to say something depressing and profound about our techno-cultural moment but to reassert the primacy of art and love. Call him the anti-Radiohead.

But don't call him naive: Monday at the Wiltern -- performing with a 10-piece band on a flower-festooned stage that resembled a set from "Moulin Rouge" -- Mika acknowledged that the world (or at least our corner of it) isn't always receptive of a message like his.

"We've had some trouble with radio in this country," he admitted before playing "Grace Kelly." Earlier, he recounted a call he received from an executive at his American label worried that "Billy Brown," about a married man's affair with another man, "isn't appropriate for the U.S. market." Mika's response to the exec's request to remove the song from "Life in Cartoon Motion" -- a more colorful version of "Fat chance," shall we say -- elicited an approving roar from the adoring audience.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the music's cheer, Monday's show carried a whiff of confrontation, as if Mika and his fans pictured themselves locked in a battle with the cynical and the close-minded.

Thanks to Mika's effortless melodic sense and his seemingly inexhaustible supply of physical energy -- the latter showcased in a trash-can drum-off during "Love Today" -- picking sides was easy: Only a hardened misanthrope could deny the pleasures of Mika's disco-twang cover of Eurythmics' "Missionary Man" or "Lollipop," which closed the show in a riot of costumes, balloons and confetti.

It was anything but depressing. But in its way it ended up pretty profound after all.

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