Bruno Mars is exceedingly talented — no denying that. And for quite a while, it seemed as though he was steering his artistry in a delectable direction, especially for 21st century pop. The “Just the Way You Are” singer was a sweetheart who pranced around making his reggae pop, causing 14-year-old girls to swoon worldwide.
But those same tweens will be asking their mothers what it means to be “fucking like gorillas” soon after picking up their copy of Unorthodox Jukebox. Doo-Wops & Hooligans wasn’t exactly a G-rated album, but the hike in explicitness on this sophomore album is enough to make you wonder if Mars is attempting the grotesque edginess of Kanye West or Tyler, The Creator.
Originality is in the ear of the beholder, however, and for those who have never sampled The Police, the record’s lead single “Locked Out of Heaven” is a new sound indeed. Sting aside, the song is contemporary, danceable and holds a No. 2 spot on the Hot 100, despite the lack of sexual artistic subtleties when “the sex takes (him) to paradise.”
“Young Girls” explores Mars’s attraction to the demographic of his debut album — a track that’s short and to the point: “Young wild girls make a mess” of people like Bruno Mars. But let’s not ruin the simplicity of the track by diving into the legality of it all.
Mars channels Michael Jackson in the album, but in more ways than hitting it off with the adolescent members of society. “Natalie,” the not-so-long lost sister of “Dirty Diana,” is a similarly caustic tale of a girl who took things too far. It’s a well-played formula. Shout a name in hatred, follow up with something they did and, of course, repeat.
Sure, there’s familiarity in the musical style of the album, but it’s nothing familiar with the 21st century. Also, the hint of reggae developed from Mars’s own production team “The Smeezingtons” gives Unorthodox Jukebox the Bruno Mars sound, and that holds the foremost importance in his artistry. For instance, “Show Me” might be in the same vulgar pool as the album’s other tracks, but at least the native Hawaiian artist digs into his roots to create a distinct reggae-sleaze groove. Bob Marley’s approval of this song is pending.
Mars jumped from previous hits like “The Lazy Song” — a catchy tune seemingly inspired by every Barney and Friends soundtrack since 1992 — to telling his “Treasure” that she’s “a sexy motherfucker” in the dance-ready, funk-pop jam. The contrast generated between his previous hits and recent work is a tad distasteful, and creepy as well.
Bruno Mars wants to run with the big dogs and ditch his female-dominated demographic, quite understandably. But Mars is the complete package — singer, dancer, writer, producer — and is far too talented to shoot for cheap shock tactics, especially this early in his career. Then again, it’s better to be a try-hard than a sellout. Fortunately, the quality songs and fairly distinguished style of Unorthodox Jukebox mask many of the bizarre sexual overtones.