From right here in Phoenix, let's travel somewhere far away for my second album today. Mark Haze is a singer in Cape Town, South Africa who seems to be well known over there, enough to be a regular on daytime television. Part of that is because he's been around for a while: his band, 12th Avenue put out four albums, got extensive radio airplay and supported Seether on their Homecoming Tour. Part of it is that he was the runner up on Idols, the South African edition of Pop Idol, in 2011. This looks like at least his fifth album since then, though some of those are covers albums.
I believe this one is all originals and it sounds good to me. It's very fresh and upbeat, mixing in funk, pop, blues and other styles into a rock framework. It's easy to see how he did well on Idols singing not only songs by Aerosmith, Queen and Journey but others by Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga and Marvin Gaye. The shortest song, Can't Forgive You, runs just shy of three minutes, while the longest is under five, a clear decision to make them all viable for radio play.
That's Walk on the Water, which is a strong opener. It's a rocker, albeit one that seems written for the female voice, and it steams along nicely with catchy verses and an even catchier chorus. Monkey isn't a lot shorter and it's even catchier, working with a funky Lenny Kravitz sort of vibe. Anjee & Me ups that bar once more, sounding like a Rick Springfield ditty but with a chorus borrowed from the Backstreet Boys, right down to an infectious "do do do do do" refrain. This is such a bouncy song that it's rather hard not bouncing along with it.
What gets me is that I just referenced the Backstreet Boys in that last paragraph with positive intent. Anjee & Me includes what they do well without bringing in any of the things that make me cringe and there are plenty of those. I'm less sure about Starchild, a far more overt pop song that dips much too deeply into modern day R&B for my tastes, even if I quite dig the drums when they get going and the rock guitar too. Haze has a habit of crafting catchy pop songs then rocking them up with a guitar.
I tend to prefer the soft rock songs like the brass-infused Hearts on Fire and the prowling Faking Heaven to the poppier numbers like Starchild and ILYSB (I Love You So Bad), but Haze is just as good at both. Frankly, it may be the songs that do both at once, like Can't Forgive You and Monster, not to forget Monkey, that are the real highlights on this album. I can imagine quite a few of these songs showing up in episodes of TV shows but Monster may be the most overt candidate for that with its dynamics, groove and lyrics.
Whether I like all these songs or not, what impresses me is how seamlessly Haze can shift in intensity. Losing My Mind is a real rocker, fighting with Walk on the Water to be the most intense song (which on this album translates to the heaviest Bryan Adams gets), but it rolls into Star, with its electronica and almost new wave groove. And yet it feels totally natural. Perhaps the linking factor between the catchy pop ditties and the tougher rockers is that all of them feel like they could be sung on a talent show. It doesn't matter if a song is soft or hard, it's accessible to a wide television audience.