Maybe it’s the direct result of the critical and commercial indifference toward his sophomore album, 2005’s forgettable Mr. A-Z, but for his third album, We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things, Jason Mraz loses a good deal of the smugness that had, to this point, been his primary calling card. The result is, if not necessarily a great pop record, the singer-songwriter’s most tolerable album and one that, in its best moments, proves that getting over himself was exactly what Mraz needed to do in order to make better music.
His tendency for show-offy over-writing still rears its head (one might think that “The Dynamo of Volition” lays its cards on the table right there in the title, but then Mraz starts half-rapping through an interminable series of non sequitors and mixed metaphors like “half a politician holding the mic like ammunition,” and it quickly turns into one of his wordplaying nightmares), but fully half of the songs surprise because they don’t trip over a glut of 50-cent words. “Lucky,” a duet with the useless Colbie Caillat, is a nonstarter, and he isn’t convincing as a would-be lothario on “Coyotes” or “Butterfly” (not even Justin Timberlake or professional manwhore Adam Levine could get away with the supposed come-on, “You make my slacks a little tight/You may unfasten them if you like/That’s if you crash and spend the night”), but the mellower cuts like the standout “If It Kills Me” and reggae-tinged lead single “I’m Yours” work.
The former track and “Love for a Child,” which chronicles a divorce from a child’s point of view, both draw favorable comparisons to Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s classic pop in that they showcase Mraz’s elastic voice—and it’s worth noting that he’s a far better singer than his contemporaries, including John Mayer, Josh Kelley, and Jack Johnson—and his knack for writing a strong melody. While it’s all too scattershot (ranging from the Quincy Jones-style horn section on “Butterfly” to the acoustic guitar and brushed snare of closer “A Beautiful Mess”) to make for a great artistic leap forward, We Sing at least finds Mraz finally learning how to play to his strengths.