As we’ve learned time and time again, hype is not always a good thing. The multi-talented Bruno Mars, famous for a signature and slick hair with a vintage vibe, releases Unorthodox Jukebox this week, and attempts to prove himself again following last year’s colorful praise for Doo-Wops And Hooligans. The stakes are high, expectations are rampant, and people are demanding to hear the best from Bruno Mars. The new album delves into a new direction lyrically and shows a different side of the singer, yet backstage production steadily rocks at an all-time personal high.
Early promotional songs for Unorthodox Jukebox sounded fantastic. “Locked Out of Heaven” was fresh and different, featuring a signature sound from the singer with a flair and vibrance that hadn’t been seen in a while on the charts, plus that nostalgic ease that still jives on Pop radio for everyone’s pleasure. The single celebrated new love as if the singer had been waiting all his life to be with this woman, and even mentioned how great the sex had been between the singer and his partner. The candid behavior was cute until it completely dominated the album’s concept.
We learned that each promotional single gave a wrong perception of the album that was to come and showcased the only complementary pieces of Unorthodox Jukebox. Fans were led on only to be let down once they had a chance to hear the album in its entirety.
“Young Girls” slowed down the pace as a second single with a melody that flattered Bruno’s voice in a wonderfully smooth ballad about the appeal in a reckless young woman that ignites a fire in him. As a standalone, the song could break your heart. In Unorthodox Jukebox, though, the single could just as easily contribute to recurring themes of money and sex: first “I spent all my money on a big ol’ fancy car/ for these bright eyed honeys” despite the chorus beautifully singing “All you young wild girls/ you make a mess of me/ Yeah you young wild girls/ you’ll be the death of me” atop strings and captivating harmonies.
These deviant motifs horrifyingly and unabashedly re-appear in nearly every song, including “Show Me,” a reggae-inspired sex narrative and “Gorilla,” the absolutely moronic track about getting it on as primates do. The lyrical treatment of women in “Natalie” gets touchy, too. With a great production team, including Mars’ good-luck charm The Smeezingtons, the celebrated Mark Ronson and even British DJ Diplo, you’d assume the lyrical content could match the singer’s wonderful sounds.
Mars’ obsession with sex and money (perhaps a side effect to newfound fame) shows off a much less charming version of the singer who we had previously known as the guy who’d jump in front of a bus for us like in “Grenade” and thinks we’re naturally beautiful like in “Just The Way You Are.” Perhaps Mars’ key into the business was a façade of gentleman’s character, and now that the singer’s made it, feels comfortable unleashing his true self. Or perhaps he’s changed. Either way, we miss the sweetheart from Doo-Wops and Hooligans. We’re hoping he’s still in there somewhere.
Unorthodox Jukebox still remains listenable and acceptable in comparison to common plays on contemporary radio. And the album earns merit for wonderful production when the writing is right, but otherwise takes a dip in the singer’s steadily rising timeline of musical blowouts. The album simply had everything it needed to thrive but fell short because of a lapse in good character.