Bruno Mars, ‘Unorthodox Jukebox’ – Album Review
Is there anything Bruno Mars can’t do?
On ‘Unorthodox Jukebox,’ the followup to his Grammy-winning ‘Doo-Wops & Hooligans,’ Mars gets edgier and pushes envelopes a bit further than he did before. Despite his checkered history (remember that mugshot?) and racy lyrics, Mars manages to maintain his spotless reputation as one of pop’s good guys, a golden child who can sing like an angel about some very sinful things.
‘Unorthodox Jukebox’ takes Mars’ pop sensibilities into different directions, but throughout retains some crucial elements: strong vocals, indelible hooks and ingenious melodies. Even when the material is melancholy or dark, Mars brings a brightness to almost anything he sings, be it about substance abuse, a broken heart or a gold digger.
There’s a clear ambition with ‘Unorthodox Jukebox.’ While Mars was going for a breakout smash with ‘Doo-Wops & Hooligans,’ he seeks to break out of the perfectionist [juke]box he created for himself in the pop world.
Mars explained, “This is me going into the studio and recording and writing whatever I want. This album represents my freedom. I’ve had big record label presidents look me in the face and say, ‘Your music sucks, you don’t know who you are, your music is all over the place, and we don’t know how to market this stuff. Pick a lane and come back to us,’” he fumed. “That was disgusting to me, because I’m not trying to be a circus act. I listen to a lot of music, and I want to have the freedom and luxury to walk into a studio and say, ‘Today I want to do a hip-hop, R&B, soul or rock record.’”
Even when he’s dirty, his music is clean, and even when he embraces grit, rawness and imperfection, there’s a calculated quality to it. Whether Mars achieved his goal or not, it’s clear that he did achieve one thing: a solid sophomore effort.
1. ‘Young Girls’
Bruno Mars laments over the prettiest ladies with the biggest pitfalls in ‘Young Girls,’ a woeful ballad. His voice soars accompanied by piano and synths, and it’s a good choice as the first track on ‘Unorthodox Jukebox’ — it welcomes back old fans and will win him new ones before he gets experimental later on in the record. [Listen Here]
2. ‘Locked Out of Heaven’
Mars channels the Police on his lead single ‘Locked Out of Heaven,’ begging his girl to let him stay the night. It’s sexy without being graphic and has a garage, punk vibe but maintains Mars’ signature polish. [Listen Here]
In what’s easily the raunchiest track Mars has ever released, he evokes Prince at his most explicit peak. “It’s about good old animalistic sex,” Mars said simply. The carnal imagery he uses isn’t even the most risque part of the lyrics, which are accompanied by primal beats. It’s actually the intro, where Mars either references his arrest (and surprisingly cute mugshot) or the fact that he may not have learned his lesson: “Got a body full of liquor with a cocaine kicker.”
On this Michael Jackson-inflected series of come ons, Mars tells a cutie, “You’re my golden star.” Somehow, Mars can get away with singing the corniest pickup lines and make them sound suave, smooth and like they’ll actually work.
Echoes and sparse production make this sound similar to a Phil Collins track, but in Mars’ song about alcohol addiction — or perhaps a girl who feels a lot like it — a midtempo beat kicks it into modern gear. [Listen Here]
6. ‘When I Was Your Man’
Another piano ballad, this time a lovelorn, sad tale about the one who got away. Mars implores the new man his girl found to hold her hand, buy her flowers and take her to parties so she can dance. It’s a vulnerable look at the ever-smooth Mars, and if it doesn’t pull at your heartstrings at least a little bit, you might not have a soul.
Whoever Natalie is, she’s bad news — and she’s in for even worse news. Mars gets furious to point of madness on this track about a girl who took his money and ran. “No matter which way you go / Payback’s gonna come your way / You’ll be begging me please please please / And I’ll look at you and laugh laugh laugh,” he sings, adding “I’ll spend a lifetime in jail / I’ll be smilin’ in my cell.” The “M” in “Mars” may well stand for maniacal. Ladies, don’t do this man dirty … outside of the boudoir, that is.
8. ‘Show Me’
A breezy reggae tune brings out the islander in Mars, and it’s already destined to be a live fan favorite. When he sings, “It’s gettin’ freaky in this room room room / Let me know if you’re ready for this boom boom boom,” it practically begs for audience participation.
9. ‘Money Make Her Smile’
Possibly inspired by the same greedy honey who acted as the muse for ‘Natalie,’ Mars sings of a girl whose morals lie not in a church, but in strip joints. “It’s not complicated so this won’t take a while / You see, music make her dance / And money, money, money make her smile.”
10. ‘If I Knew’
Mars is more doo-wop than hooligan here, penning a piano-driven ditty that Percy Sledge may envy. It’s a stately closer to a refined collection and a reminder that despite his vices, Mars is a class act with a hungry heart.
Watch the Bruno Mars ‘Locked Out of Heaven’ Video