I’m gonna be straight with y’all, I don’t get what Bruno Mars’s deal is. I honestly can’t figure him out. If you go back to his first album Doo-Wops And Hooligans, you’ll find a singer with a tendency to be cheesy but packed with enough sincerity to justify most of his over-the-top musical histrionics. Now skip all the way to his latest record, 24K Magic, and compare. I think you’ll be sort of surprised at how ridiculous this man has gotten. Just look at the album cover! And that’s where my confusion comes in. I can’t tell if the dude really wants us to take this seriously or if he’s just participating in some sort of sick experiment to see how much corniness one can exude before the audience becomes physically ill.
Really, we should have seen this coming. “Uptown Funk”, as much as I was (and still am) conflicted about whether the song was absolutely amazing or the worst thing ever, was if you ask most people, the song of 2015. And even though it wasn’t technically a Bruno Mars song, I think the residue of that spunky chunk o’ funk can be tasted all over 24K Magic. And, if I’m being perfectly honest, I think the album is for the better because of it. I always liked Bruno Mars as a songwriter and a singer, but some of his earlier work was hindered by being overly serious, something that doesn’t work for a personality as boisterous as his. A song like “Grenade” becomes cringeworthy when Bruno sings it, not because of the content of the song, but mostly because Bruno Mars is not one for the type of subtlety that an angsty ballad requires in order to be convincing. Bruno Mars requires high octane premium. He doesn’t run well on unleaded. So, it seems like the right move, four years after the stylistically scattershot Unorthodox Jukebox, for him to finally release something that seemingly plays to his strengths.
I have to admit, when I first heard the title track lead single “24K Magic”, I absolutely hated it. To me, it felt like a terrible retread of “Uptown Funk” and I was really worried about the quality of the album. But after a few more listens, it really clicked with me and now I view it as a broad mission statement for the record. When “Versace On The Floor” was released, I enjoyed that much more immediately and I was then properly anticipating this. So now it’s here, and boy does this album not give a single fuck. This is on another level of corny. It constantly walks that tightrope of endearing and irritating, and, for the most part, it works. When Bruno shouts at me to “Throw some perm on that attitude”, I don’t know whether to embrace it or shun it.
The track that contains that particular line, “Perm”, is a good example of the stylistic shift that Bruno Mars has undertaken since his first record, in that he basically wears bits of various musical genres as jewelry. Bruno Mars has a great ear for production. In my opinion it’s one of his greatest strengths as an artist. While 24K Magic is more consistent stylistically than Unorthodox Jukebox, choosing to stick with a sort of eighties R&B sound pretty much the whole length of the record, he still traverses a pretty diverse set of moods and feels within those parameters. Even then, he sometimes does break out of it. The aforementioned “Perm” is a particularly fun track that doesn’t even try to hide the fact that it’s a James Brown song. There’s also some delicious new jack swing on “Finesse”, combined with some early 2000s sounding synths and bell percussion that sort of reminds me of the Neptunes. Opposite to what I said earlier about Bruno’s lack of subtlety, the precise reason why “Versace On The Floor” works so well is that he gets so damn heated and over-the-top. The song would be unbearable if sung by some boring sadboy Chris Martin type, but in the hands of someone as blustery as Bruno Mars, it goes beyond its corny e-piano production and becomes transcendent in a goofy sort of way.
And that’s really my feelings on most of this record. It sounds like the dude is having tons of fun performing these songs, and I find the whole thing to be pretty damn enjoyable. And really, I’d much rather top 40 pop music sound like this than the cheap, lethargic robo-ballads the Chainsmokers are shitting out every couple of weeks (seriously, the hard drive with the Pro Tools file for “Closer” on it needs to be put on a rocket and fired into the sun, for the greater good of music). It’ll take some time to see if this holds up after a couple of months. With a lot of pop albums, I often really enjoy them for a couple of weeks, but the flavor usually wears off after awhile. This sort of thing happened with Lady Gaga’s new album, a record I really enjoyed in the weeks surrounding its release, but also one I haven’t listened to much since a couple weeks after it came out. But for now, 24K Magic is a really fun album if you can embrace the ridiculousness.
-Versace On The Floor