With the possible exception of Owl City's Adam Young, I don't think there's any musician in the mainstream as unquenchably upbeat, earnest and positive these days as Jason Mraz.
Forget angst. Forget melancholy. Forget cynicism, sarcasm and nihilism. There's none of that on this acoustic troubadour's fifth studio effort, an album that aptly bears the ebullient title of Yes! And that utterly un-ironic exclamation point you see there is our first clue to how utterly and unapologetically upbeat this 37-year-old singer-songwriter is these days. There are no glass-half-full, glass-half-empty conversations to be had here. No, for Jason Mraz, life's beauty and inherent goodness is overflowing and abundant—even in its hardest moments.
And unlike Mr. Mraz's last outing, 2012's Love Is a Four Letter Word, there aren't any problematic profanities prancing in at the last possible moment to poison the otherwise positive proceedings.
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"Love Someone" recognizes the paradox that love is something received when we give it away. Though there's a discrete implication of a sexual relationship here, Mraz actually says that love is about more than just sex ("And I am right beside you/More than just a partner or lover/I'm your friend"). Speaking of a friend above all friends, "Best Friend" offers a tender, gratitude-filled tribute to how one can make everything better ("I feel my life is better/Because you're a part of it/ … Thank you for lifting me up/Thank you for keeping me grounded").
Similarly, "Quiet" finds refuge in a solid relationship when everything else is changing. And there's more of same on "You Can Rely on Me" and "Shine," the latter using the sun's light on the moon as a metaphor for how we can shine our own light of love on others. Lyrics there also seem to recognize the God-given goodness and dignity in creation and in each of us ("I see who you really are/You're every creature, every man, every woman and child/You're the closest thing I'll ever get to knowing God").
Embracing each new day with zealous optimism, "Hello, You Beautiful Thing" exults, "I shuffle my slipperless toes to the kitchen/Still low to the ground, but high on living/And I know, I know it's gonna be a good day/Hello, hello, you beautiful thing."
Not even breakups dampen Mraz's irrepressibly positive spirit very much. He laments a broken romance on "Out of My Hands," but he ultimately understands that he's got to have an openhanded attitude of relinquishment toward life's losses ("When it feels like too much to understand/Know that it's out of your hands"). Then, "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday" acknowledges the pain of either a breakup or perhaps a death, but chooses to focus on good memories ("I'll take with me the memories to be my sunshine after the rain").
"3 Things" brims with wisdom on dealing with loss, proffering a step-by-step process for getting through those moments of weeping: "Number one, I cry my eyes out and dry up my heart/ … The second thing I do is I close both of my eyes/And say my thank-yous to each and every moment of my life/ … The third thing I do now when my world caves in/Is I pause, I take a breath and bow, and I let the chapter end." Mraz adds, "I know above the clouds the sun is shining on." Another concrete response to disappointment turns up on "Back to the Earth," where Mraz counsels turning off the phone and just doing some gardening—getting your hands dirty to stay grounded in reality.
"Long Drive" suggests a couple that starts out holding hands and cuddling might have pulled to the side of the road to take things further ("Let's get lost, I don't want to be found/Let's get away now, and be careful not to crash/It's known there's frost and we're steaming the glass/You hit the road, have a generous shoulder/We could pull over, and say we took the long way").
"Back to the Earth" tips its hat to a naturalistic, evolutionary worldview with these lines: "Alright, let's get Jurassic on this bridge/We are animals/We are wild/Started with emotions at the bottom of the ocean/Now we're swinging from the tops of the trees/Oh, we are animals."
As I mentioned, no profane clouds spoil the sunshine this time around. But for some music critics, that's a bad thing. Writing for slantmagazine.com, Matt Fruchtman ended his review by saying, "[Jason Mraz's] wide-lens worldview leaves Yes! feeling like the musical equivalent of a G-rated sitcom."
For Fruchtman, that comparison isn't a compliment. But really it is. And Mraz makes no apologies for delivering a hopeful, soulful, melodic, acoustic take on life's journey—without all that suggestive and sleazy stuff that so often fills pop music today. Yes! isn't perfect, but it's not even close to No!