When we last left Mr. Mars he was reveling in all things youthful and idealistic. Even though he suggested It’s Better If You Don’t Understand, he did share enough to make sure we would hang around for Doo-Wops & Hooligans. However, if you were expecting an extended version of his EP chock full of cutesy teenage pop ballads, you’re going to leave FYE disappointed. Three of the four songs from It’s Better.. are present and allow Doo-Wops… to soak up a bit of that naive young love vibe. This album is a diverse collection of genres and generations with adult themes to boot.
The lead single, “Just The Way You Are,” has introduced this album to the public with a very similar tone to It’s Better… He loves her without the make-up, trendy attire and bobbles. Her eyes and her laugh are the draw and natural is finer than any bow she could put on top. It’s cutesy, infatuation-soaked pop; perfect for the glitter eyeliner crowd. Mars knows his audience and goes straight for the heart. What is left though, are six tracks full of casual sex, depression, drug use, marriage proposals and bad relationships. It’s nothing that would be expected of Mr. Mars, but welcome nonetheless.
“Grenade” chronicles a young man’s descent into a hard realization that the woman he loves doesn’t love him. The construction is a pop/R&B mix with a good helping of synth and thunderous drumming holding it together. Mars finds himself in an easy vocal range that allows him belt out his melancholy in a beautifully soulful way. Then Bruno takes an easy reggae-tinged track and discusses going all the way in “Our First Time.” The big ole empty room he mentions at the beginning will immediately take you back to “Do Me Baby,” (well if you’re old enough to remember back that far) but Mars’ flow is more Robin Thicke with some MJ on the hook than Prince.
There’s a 60’s Rock revival brewing with “Runaway.” It’s not Del Shannon, but I can see Mars and his band performing this in their shiny suits and skinny ties. The lyrics are amusing in their corniness, but the energy is awesome. “Lazy Song” returns to reggae while Mars counts all the things he could be doing while he does nothing. Get his degree, bang some chick he just met, comb his hair; he could, but he ain’t. As the title suggests, the song really doesn’t do anything. “Marry You” is a tale of bad decision making after one too many drinks. The wedding bells aren’t overwhelming and actually fit snuggly in the tepid 80’s inspired pop track. Nothing special, but not bad.
The new songs are wrapped up with “Liquor Store Blues,” which is by far the best of the island rhythm-infused songs on the album. Mars and feature artist Jr. Gong visit the idea of self-medication in trying times. It’s hard to buy into Mars as a downtrodden everyman with an addiction, but it’s a good song and Marley adds some reggae authenticity.
The album closes with the Mars we are familiar with and even though “The Other Side” is a hand me down from It’s Better If You Don’t Understand, it’s still the best song on this album. The 60’s vibe, the two incredible features, the great harmonies, that dope ass break; it’s still fantastic after all these months. Mars pushes past his comfort zone vocally but the other elements of the song more than save it.
Bruno Mars has been pulling out layer after layer of style since the masses were introduced to him through Flo Rida’s megahit “Right Round.” (He has a co-writing credit) He seems just as comfortable in reggae or rock as he does in pop and the album proves that as he flows through genres with ease. Doo-Wops & Hooligans isn’t perfect, but it’s a great starting point for Mr. Mars.
3.25 out of 5
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