Review Summary: Departing from the pop sound of his debut album, Bruno Mars creates an 'Unorthodox Jukebox' of songs that reinterprets classic genres of music from a modern perspective.
First entering the air waves in 2010 with his debut album 'Doo-Wops & Hooligans', Bruno Mars spawned a series of overplayed singles such as 'Marry Me' , 'Grenade', 'The Lazy Song' and the other thousand hits we heard a hundred times a day. In these songs Mars talked about how he would catch a grenade for his girlfriend, that she was amazing just the way she was, and a variety of tacky predictable lyrics. So with this drastic overplaying of songs, that sounded overly typical of the pop music industry, I tended to have much distaste for Bruno Mars and his work. Though when a friend made me watch one of his live performances on YouTube, I was taken back by how energetic his live music was, spanning many genres with brass sections, and a wide variety of instruments, this caused me to ask why was his studio work so simple and confined to the same topic and genre with only a few instrumental parts? Well the reason for this was probably that his debut album was rather a projection of his label, Atlantic Records, wants and a rejection of his own influences. Though in terms of his sophomore release, Mars had more creative control, which allows him to create an album that lives up to its name as an 'Unorthodox Jukebox' of songs that would not commonly be made by pop artists today. Saying "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'" Mars demonstrates that his second album creates a vast array of musical styles from his own freedom, which are reminiscent of different musical periods that collectively, literally give the listener a 'Jukebox' of songs.
Opening with 'Young Girls', the start of the album didn't really give me high hopes, it just seemed like another Bruno Mars song, that wasn't dissimilar to any of his previous hit tracks. It is a just a simple, mid tempo ballad, with a string laced chorus, small electro parts in the background, and a slightly interesting vocal line. I suppose the lyrics are honest, talking about falling for the charms of young girls, a temptation which most men succumb to. However, even with this happening, the song didn't do much for me, though in hindsight it is a wise choice to open with a song that the listener can be comfortable with and find familiar, especially if they liked the first album. By doing this, Mars' opening song prepares the listener for the transition of his sound into something different, and while I always like an epic opening to kick start an album, I can find this song to still work.
This track then sequences into the most popular song on the album, 'Locked Out of Heaven' a pop hit that has been in the top 100 for five consecutive weeks. 'Locked Out of Heaven' is very reminiscent of artists such as The Police, containing a retro synth in the chorus, typical Andy Summers like high pitched, stacatto guitar chords, a grooving bass line, and (by today's modern pop standards) a very raw drum sound . The only thing I find disappointing about this track is that it's raw sound isn't replicated in other songs on the record, which sets a production quality to which the rest of the album is contrasted with. In this, the album produces songs reminiscent of past genres, and while the modern production quality gives them a different spin, it sort of detaches the songs from where they originally came from, the exception being this song of course, which has a distinctive simpler production sound. My favorite part of this song is the lyrics, unlike his old songs that talked about doing unrealistic things for women and how perfect women could be, this song is a tad more realistic in that he discusses a relationship that glorifies sex to the point that it becomes sinful hence locking Mars 'out of heaven'. This is something most people can relate to and understand at one point in their life or another, making this new Mars track more realistic.
The next song 'Gorilla' is a slow paced 80s like ballad that has distorted power chords, electronic drums, and a driving vocal line, however despite this, the track is probably another low point, which occurring this early in the album makes me not like the albums structure and song order that much. The lyrics of this song also don't do much for me, I mean seriously
'You'll be banging on my chest, Bang bang, gorilla, You and me baby making love like gorillas' isn't the most deeply written or meaningful thing I've ever heard. Due to this I cant take the song seriously and just reject it as being a good song at all , easily my least favorite on the album.
'Gorilla' then becomes 'Treasure', now this is one of those songs that made me think I had my iPod on shuffle with other artists, because it sounded nothing like what I expected. 'Treasure' reminds me of Earth, Wind and Fire and to a lesser extent
The Jackson 5. This song has an electronic piano, a slap bass, a sneaky xylophone part in the background and a grooving vocal line that really just flows. This is probably a personal favorite on the record because it is just so happy and flows so well at a great pace. Again, the lyrics aren't too creative but I feel that this album was more about exploring new genres and being about the music, rather than the lyrics, which is fine.
'Moonshine' just screams 80s at me when I listen to it, with that refreshing minor keyed guitar with the perfect amount of delay on it. The layered vocals in this track also work well to add a great background vibe to the piece. The song keeps building as it progresses and the lyrics are part of that modern 'live fast, die young' mentality which while not original is new for Mars making it interesting and chilled at the same time with its laid back feel.
'When I was Your Man' brings Mars back to his simpler sound, only using a piano and cheesy romantic lyrics, but unlike his past songs, his voice just creates a different type of mood in the song, coming out emotionally at different parts. Never climaxing, or erupting in any way, this song departs from how his old songs were structured, rather just consisting of him pouring out his feelings and soul in front of you, with only him and a piano working without any heavily produced electro or sampled instrument parts. Another highlight of the album, which personally reminds me of artists like Elton John (people may heavily disagree on that, and I understand that, but it's just my opinion) 'When I was Your Man' is another great song, that combines his old and new sound to make a great track.
I don't really know what to make of the song 'Natalie', it just seems like a filler song to me, just reiterating the same name of the title over and over again. I suppose it is more driving and well paced than other songs on the album with an alright drum beat and somewhat interesting organ parts in the background. Though overall I personally don't like this song, but it seems like one of those album tracks that most people would seem to rate highly, it just doesn't really do much for me personally, it just seems really empty and drags on for a while.
Moving into more types of music, 'Show Me' is another typical example of a new genre, Mars' reggae sound. This is evident in using steel drums, dead strumming of the guitar, and a simple drum beat, however by using electronic drums as well, this song brings the genre into a more modern perspective. This to me seems like another filler track that is average at best, but it is still very cool to see him chuck in a song from another genre and period of music into his album.
'Money Make Her Smile' just starts with a choir part and a funk bass line, a pretty cool combination. Using a lot of synth parts, this song mixes funk with a newer type of sound. Saying 'shes a superfreak' Mars may be trying to show what he takes from past music to the listener. This song changes from slow and fast tempos between verses and chorus, giving an interesting juxtaposition. In the last minute of the song, this track makes an unexpected transition into a hip hop like beat before ending with the chorus. Not my favorite track, but 'Money Make Her Smile' definitely has the most interesting merging of new and old genres of music, and is definitely among the better songs on this album.
'If I Knew' is the final song off the 'Unorthodox Jukebox', and is a great way to end the album, being one of my favorite tracks. Being only 2:12 long, this song gets to the point and is a slow type of song with a great guitar tone, and has a vocal line that flows so well that I cant resist loving this track. Yeah the lyrics may be just like every other song on the album, but this song reprises an old school rock theme that personally reminds me of Credence and other artists, making it pretty cool.
When I talk to people about music, some people say artists should sound like their influences, while other people say that they should be completely original and not sound like anyone else. If you ask me, what makes great music lies somewhere in between these two points, because it's important to sound familiar, but at the same time to be so different as to stand out, this is what makes great music to me, and to a small extent it's what Mars does in this record. If it were up to me, it seems that this album could be stripped of a third of its songs and turned into a near perfect EP, and I personally would love a lot of artists to do this, but that's simply not going to happen and isn't realistic. The downsides to this album are that modern production quality detaches these songs from their original genre, not giving the raw vibe I would personally admire. Also the lyrics seem to be rather simple, rarely straying from the topics of relationships and women, it would be cool to see Mars talk about different things int he future, but in his line of music, and with his fan base I wouldn't expect that to really happen. Given, this album is not amazing by any means, but it shows that Mars is capable of existing in the pop charts while creating music that is a great combination of his influence's sound and his own. Such creative freedom doesn't make this an amazing album, but it gives Bruno Mars a new direction to move towards, making me excited to see where he will go and how he will be remembered in twenty years or so.
- If I Knew
- Locked out of Heaven