Review Summary: Going back in time to move forward artistically
Among the writers credited in the album credits of 24K Magic
, one name stuck out in particular: James Fauntleroy. His name recognition for a casual music listener may only go as far as a few feature credits on To Pimp A Butterfly
, the work of his that should really be of note in this case is his co-writer credit on every single song on Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience
. There are some apt comparisons to be made between 20/20
, but the most significant is the similar persona both Timberlake and Mars adapt on their respective records. Both artists transition from playing the role of your run-of-the-mill lover boy to a suave sex deity with an old-school flair and a love for all things ritzy: champagne, coupes, and penthouse parties 24/7 (also strawberry-flavored things apparently). While that does sound like something that would come across as lame and cringe-worthy if it were played straight, the levels of confident hedonism shown by both gets so absurd that they have to be interpreted as self-aware. The fact that the bridge for “Calling All My Lovelies” features Mars being sent to voicemail by Halle Berry after he asks for someone to “come dry these eyes”
when the aforementioned “lovelies” have ignored his calls indicates at least some satire is being put into play on 24K Magic
The tongue-in-cheek manner of 24K
doesn’t come across as some kind of Lonely Island parody though. Mars has an obvious passion for the music laid onto this record, as he sounds confident and swagger-filled across this entire album, not like before when he’d give his audience a sneak peek via a rare single that’d show how charismatic he could really be. Mars is just as entertaining on funky, energetic cuts like “Chunky” and “Finesse” as he is on ballads like the passionate and sexy “Versace On The Floor,” which is a first for any Bruno Mars album.
The sheer enjoyability of most of the songs on 24K
does have a lot to do with the wonderful vocal performances from Mars, but the production steals the show quite often. Instead of the production being credited to The Smeezingtons, a songwriting/production trio made of Mars, Phillip Lawrence, and Ari Levine, the entirety of the record is produced by Shampoo Press & Curl, which is simply a name change for the now Levine-less duo. However, this name change has come with a complete change in quality as well, as the production on 24K Magic
is some of the best to grace a pop record since, well, The 20/20 Experience
. However, while 20/20
thrived on its lushness, expansiveness, and progressiveness, 24K Magic
succeeds as a compact, synth-heavy, straightforward joyride of an R&B record. 24K
is a melting pot of various styles of contemporary R&B from across the decades with a modern-day face lift. From the old-school funk of “Perm,” where Mars kills it as a modern-day James Brown, to the new jack swing-esque drum patterns on “Finesse,” to the quintessential ‘90s slow jam of 2016, “Versace On The Floor,” every sound Mars and Press & Curl play with goes over swimmingly.
Nowhere is the combination of Mars’s irresistible charisma and Press & Curl’s wonderful production more of an unstoppable force than the lead single and title track. Much akin to “Uptown Funk,” “24K Magic” features a braggadocious Mars strutting his stuff and throwing out quotable after quotable with his hype men keeping the energy of the track up in the background. Behind Mars is a grade-A electro-funk instrumental with some great talkbox vocals that emphasize the fun nostalgia that the track embodies. In a year that has has failed to live up to the standards 2015 set when it comes to the pop charts, “24K Magic” is a diamond in the rough, and 24K Magic
is easily Bruno Mars’ greatest record yet. He has now joined the likes of Justin Timberlake, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Ariana Grande by going past just the stellar singles and made a full record that could be considered essential listening in its release year. We can only hope that Mars sticks with his current position in pop music: the average mainstream listener’s time machine to R&B’s plentiful past.