Jason Mraz ranks up there with Dr. Luke and T-Pain in shaping pop. No, he didn’t drive autotune out of human territory, nor did he snap together pop’s main template, but his own template, “I’m Yours,” brought the jaunt to Bieber carols to Bruno croons to about one-third of the finalists on any given singing competition. It’s the spot of light reggae let into radio playlists, the sound you go to if you’re going earnest. That said, Mraz hasn’t gotten much traction lately on the U.S. charts, despite releasing single “The World As I See It” last year. (The K-pop charts, on the other hand! And yes, that is real. Right above LMFAO, too. Fanbases work in mysterious ways.)
“I Won’t Give Up,” his next single, is his latest bid to change that. Oh, and incidentally, Luke and T-Pain were red herrings. Answering no one’s questions, “I Won’t Give Up” is as far from either as you can possibly get. The surprise is how far from Jason’s best-known singles it is. Listen below:
The obvious template here isn’t “I’m Yours,” nor is it “Geek in the Pink” or any of those cocked-fedora likes. Of Mraz’s singles, the closest is probably Colbie Caillat collab “Lucky.” If you’ve heard that, great, but if not, you can probably extrapolate “I Won’t Give Up”‘s sound just on that description: a gentle acoustic ballad with a hint of speak-singing a ways in but otherwise straightforward and straight-faced. It’s a love song, as you might have guessed, and it soft-rocks its way through sentiments like “when I look into your eyes, it’s like watching the night sky or a beautiful sunrise–there’s just so much they hold”–still earnest, but joke-free.
This isn’t faint praise; after the fumes of too many Trains and loveless Plain White Ts rhythms, it’s nice to hear Mraz slow and comparatively serious. And as a ballad, this is more than well-constructed–the echoing background vocals that enter toward the end, in particular, give this welcome oomph. The year will tell whether the charts agree, but “I Won’t Give Up” nevertheless exceeds whatever expectations we had for Mraz in 2012. Sometimes, earnestness really can work.