When it comes to pop music, Bruno Mars is one of the more unique figures, creating a huge fan base in a short number of years and with only two short studio albums. He has done two Super Bowl halftime shows, has had four number one singles before recently spending a near record breaking 14 weeks at the top with the inescapable “Uptown Funk.” Maybe it is because I rarely listen to the radio but I still defend “Uptown Funk,” thinking it is definitely a fun, catchy song with plenty of personality to back it up.
This is probably why I enjoyed this album’s titular lead single when it dropped last month. Mars was braggadocios to the point of self-parody, coming across as overtly arrogant to a comical degree. With lines like “Don’t look too hard/Might hurt yourself/Known to give the color red the blues” Mars’ charisma is on full display, which has always been one of his best assets. This record is also very much a product of its influence, borrowing heavily from the musical styles of 80s and 90s R&B. Bruno Mars is no stranger to incorporating his influences into his art, he has made a career of it and he continues to do it well on 24K Magic.
The first three tracks, including the title track, definitely capture that arrogant swagger that I think works in the smaller doses it is presented. “Chunky” features Mars’ talk-sing delivery singing about trying to find a woman who is independent. We get little gems like “Shout out to the girls that pay they rent on time” and the song is just generally fun. “Perm” probably pushes my tolerance for songs like this. Mars’ energy saves this song in a way that no other artist probably could. The hook is weak though and outside of the line about Mars keeping his pens in his penthouse there was nothing to really make me laugh.
After this, the album does start to slow down after this, and in my opinion it is for the best. “That’s What I Like” is a heavily produced song about living in luxury that sees Mars’ performance get progressively better throughout. It leads up well to “Versace on the Floor,” a love making ballad that definitely sounds like it could have fit on a record by Michael Jackson or Boyz II Men. The lyrics are nothing special, this is something that has been done a thousand times, but Bruno Mars’ vocals make the song intimate, bringing me back to what I liked most about his first two albums. The synths work surprisingly well as the track swells to a nice drop of 80s pop perfection.
“Straight Up & Down” rides on the coattails of “Versace” and attempts to do something similar and while also sounds straight from the 80s, does not have the staying power that the song that precedes it has. This is especially upsetting since I was hoping for more from it since it had a T-Pain writing credit. “Calling All My Lovelies” is a little more tounge-in-cheek with lines like “I got Alicia waiting, Aisha waiting/All the eesha’s waiting on me” and Mars’ falsetto shines here.
Things pick up in pace with “Finesse” which is a smooth, confident track that does not push into the arrogance the beginning did. I think this is what Mars should have been making more of, even though I did enjoy those earlier tracks. It captures the 90s in a more authentic way, taking itself a little more seriously.
The closer “Too Good to Say Goodbye,” a surprisingly somber track considering how upbeat the entire record is up until here. The song, which is co-written by Babyface, is not new territory for Mars, who has made some great songs in this vein before, and this is no exception. The production is big and showing and works with his theatrical delivery and the synth-driven intro and outro to the track are also nice touches.
The album is painfully short, spanning only 9 tracks that are just over 30 minutes in total. After taking four years to release this I was hoping for more content but what is here is not disappointing. There are no blatantly bad songs on this project and fans of pop music, or this styl of 80s and 90s throwback R&B will certainly enjoy this record greatly. Everything is polished and thoughtfully produced, showing how hard Mars must have worked to make this record exactly to his liking. Nothing feels rushed or out of place, just unfulfilling at times.
I have no doubt that Bruno Mars will continue to make fun albums and his talent will be remembered, I just wish he would start to push the envelope a little more and try something new instead of borrow from that past. But besides that, I am pleased with 24K Magic and think it will be produce some solid singles for Mars.
Best Tracks: 24K Magic, That’s What I Like, Versace on the Floor, Finesse, Too Good to Say Goodbye
Worst Track: Straight Up & Down