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Album Review

Popular music and angst go hand in hand. Rejection. Unrequited love. Unmet longings. Breakups. Loss.

And glancing at the title of acoustic troubadour Jazon Mraz's fourth album, Love Is a Four Letter Word, you might assume that's exactly where he's coming from. After all, four-letter words often aren't nice words. They're bitter words.

But most of his latest effort—a pop-tinged blend of acoustic, island, reggae, gospel, funk, ska and jazz sounds—is about as far removed from bitterness and angst as it could possibly be. There's little sullenness, even less acrimony and zero regret to be found here.

What we get instead is a whole lotta nice. With a great big asterisk. Read on.

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Pro-social Content

"The Freedom Song" sets the upbeat tone. "I feel good," Mraz tells us. "And when I feel good, I sing/And the joy it brings makes me feel good/ … 'Cause it brings me freedom."

"Living in the Moment" rejects a lifestyle of anxiety ("I will not waste my days/Making up all kinds of ways/To worry about all the things/That will not happen to me"), embracing instead a healthy openness to being fully present in every moment ("So I just let go of what I know I don't know/ … Living in the moment/ … With peace in my heart/Peace in my soul." He also refuses to live a life that's shackled to past mistakes ("I can't walk through life facing backwards").

Several songs, including "The Woman I Love," "Everything Is Sound" and " I Won't Give Up," express unconditional love, commitment and faithfulness. In the latter, for example, we hear, "I won't give up on us/even if the skies get rough/I'm giving you all my love."

Clearly, love is the drug here. But there's mature realism too. "The Woman I Love," for example, acknowledges that any relationship has occasional annoyances. But these aren't enough to prompt Mraz to give up on it. The cryptically titled "5/6" challenges listeners to relinquish self-absorption and love others well ("Are you dancing with your partner, or are you pushing them around?/Are you begging for attention, or do you love the one you've found?"). That song also exhorts parents not to make narcissistic projects out of their children: "Don't dress your children like dolls from your past/Or they'll run away from you madly, they'll never look back/And when they grow older, they'll do just the same."

"Frank D. Fixer" and "93 Million Miles" reflect on lifelong lessons learned from parents and a grandfather (a farmer and a handyman with a penchant for patching up broken things). Mraz longs to be like his grandpa, saying, "I wish I was a fixer/I would fix you up inside/ … I wish I was a farmer/I would grow you a Garden of Eden/I would bless the family with the gifts that Granddad handed me/How wonderful that would be."

The closest Mraz ever inches toward anything angst-ridden is when he asks a woman who's uncertain about their relationship to tell him the truth about what she's feeling (on "Be Honest"). Even here, though, he seems quietly secure and centered, not at all flustered by his friend's indecision.

Objectionable Content

"The Woman I Love" celebrates a relationship's goodness, but also hints that two people are living together with no mention made of marriage. Likewise, "In Your Hands" includes lines that matter-of-factly list some of the things Mraz enjoys about being with someone, including "Ticket lines and places to dine/Taking baths and drinkin' wine/ … Motorcycles and for sure the Eiffel Tower/They were made for two/A double bed has never felt so empty/What's missing in the world is you."

The deluxe version of Love Is a Four Letter Word gives specific meaning to the title, boasting the live bonus track "You Fckn Did It." The song's verses are actually pretty positive as they use all manner of wordplay to praise a friend's confidence and boldness. The chorus, however, repeats the phrase "You f---in' did it" a dozen or more times. We also hear one misuse of God’s name and one interjection of “d--n.”

Summary Advisory

Jason Mraz's unironic, unapologetic embrace of life's inherent goodness is a breath of fresh air in a music world that's too often choked by the fumes of toxic self-absorption. When was the last time you heard a mainstream artist pen lyrics like these? "The world as I see it is a remarkable place/ … From a bird's-eye view I can see we are family/ … From a bird's-eye view I can see you are just like me."

And then he goes and decides to include "You Fckn Did It" in the deluxe version of the album, not only forcing an advisory sticker onto it, but also deliberately bludgeoning the balance of the mostly positive material. (A couple of passing references to cohabitation notwithstanding.) Mr. Mraz's latest is an infectiously optimistic and mature effort that seemingly uses that "mature" designation to excuse the repeated inclusion of the f-word on a bonus track.

Plot Summary

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Debuted at No. 2.

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April 17, 2012

On Video

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Adam R. Holz

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