We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. (Atlantic)
ESSENTIAL "If It Kills Me"
Jason Mraz bragged about being all about the wordplay on 2005's "Mr. A-Z." That's still sporadically in evidence on the new "We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things.," especially on the hyperactive "Dynamo," where he declares himself "half a politician holding the mike like ammunition." Mraz doesn't seem to be in love with words so much as with how smart he'll look for using them, though, and his showoff tendencies result in him turning the word "are" into something with 13 syllables in "Only Human." Musically, Mraz seems convinced that his two sweet spots are Justin Timberlake lite ("Coyote" and the "woo!"-peppered jam of "Butterfly," which features the unfortunate seduction line "You make my slacks a little tight") and a less heavy-lidded Jack Johnson (the reggae-tinged "I'm Yours," the Colbie Caillat duet "Lucky"). But Mraz shines brightest on a pair of '70s-style piano-pop songs. "Love for a Child" would be solid midtempo Elton John, complete with lyrics (viewing a failing relationship from the child's perspective) just oddball enough for Bernie Taupin. And on "If it Kills Me," with its piano pulse, light strings, crisp production, and double-tracked vocals, Mraz makes like Jeff Buckley singing a lost AM radio classic. [Marc Hirsh]