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On a recent trip to Italy, I was followed around the country by a pop song. Blaring out of cafes and boutiques everywhere, it was campy and catchy, with a pounding beat and a falsetto melody that climbed the staircase of a chorus two steps at a time. Its lyric was part nonsense, part harangue. But what really caught my ear was the singer's voice. I'm a huge Queen fan, and this guy sounded like the reincarnation of Freddie Mercury. He even namechecked Freddie in the lyric. The song is called "Grace Kelly." And the singer is Mika.

From a glance at Billboard, I soon learned that the whole European continent was pretty much under the spell of Mika and his wicked little castrato hit (my bet is that by summer, America will be too). Born in Lebanon, raised in Paris and London, Mika--real name Michael Penniman--is an operatically trained singer with music college smarts. He's also got pop star looks--skinny, tousle-haired, lush-featured.

Mika live

So what about the album? Life In Cartoon Motion is an apt title, as the arrangements tumble out in big, bold colors with lots of crashes and splashes. Mika was smart to put "Grace Kelly" in the lead-off position, because it's the best song of the baker's dozen here. But there's still plenty to enjoy. When he's not channeling Freddie on splashy tunes like "Stuck In the Middle," "Billy Brown," and "Big Girl" (a nod to "Fat Bottom Girls"), he flirts with disco on "Relax" and '70s bubblegum on "Lollipop" and "Live Today."

It does get a little sugary though. By the end of the record, I felt like I'd chewed three packs of Bubble Yum.

Maybe Mika will turn out to be a one-hit wonder, but 2007 is going to be a huge year for him. And this 22-year old upstart deserves kudos not only for making a killer single, but for bringing some much-needed camp, humor, and Freddie Mercurial flamboyance back to the charts. • Bill DeMain

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