“Love Is a Four Letter Word” finds the California transplant sticking to what he does best. The tempos are leisurely, the guitars are plucked casually, and the melodies are crooned with pedestrian funkiness, as though Mr. Mraz recorded each one while lounging in a beachside hammock. Even the faster songs rarely break a sweat.
Mr. Mraz’s breakup with former fiancee Tristan Prettyman, an event that could’ve lent some real-life grit to this album, is barely mentioned. Instead, the songs rehash the statements he’s already made before. Mr. Mraz wants to remind us - for the umpteenth time - that life is good, that the water is fine, that everybody should love everybody else. It’s fine advice, but when his West Coast mantras are delivered on the back of familiar grooves and bland fingerpicking, it’s hard to take anything he says to heart.
There are some exceptions to the rule. Vocalist Inara George makes a guest appearance on “Be Honest,” a folk song in the Brazilian tradition, and “5/6” flirts with tempo changes and jazz chords. On “In Your Hands,” Mr. Mraz slows the tempo to a sparse crawl, adding some tasteful organ and brushed percussion to his guitar-and-vocal base.
At nearly 60 minutes, though, “Love Is a Four Letter Word” takes far too long to spell out its message of easy living. Despite all his talk about living life to the fullest, Mr. Mraz can’t seem to rustle up enough energy to sound as excited as he did on 2002’s “The Remedy.” Here, he’s in full-blown siesta mode, and “Four Letter Word” sounds like a snooze fest.
By James A. Lyons
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