Bruno Mars has had an enviable career so far. After writing songs for other artists as he struggled to be taken seriously as a performer himself, he took the world by storm with his debut album, Doowops & Hooligans. “Just The Way You Are” was a stellar first single that showed both quality writing and an impressive voice. Bruno continued his upward trend with his sophomore release, Unorthodox Jukebox. Singles like “Locked Out Of Heaven” and “Treasure” affirmed that he was a star with staying power.
In 2014, Bruno moved up to icon level with his collaboration with Mark Ronson, “Uptown Funk.” The song was impossibly catchy and had the kind of groove and swagger not heard since the ‘80s. It was also a massive hit, topping the charts for weeks on end and becoming Bruno’s biggest single to date. And its colossal success has proved to be a tough act to follow up.
A full four years after releasing Unorthodox Jukebox, Bruno is finally back with album number three, 24K Magic. Its title track also served as the first single, and “24K Magic” has lived up to the expectations set by its predecessor, “Uptown Funk.” It’s an earworm with energy and pizazz, even as it pushes arguably shallow ideals. The song paints a picture of wealth and short-lived romance, but all in good fun.
But it doesn’t stop there. Money and sex are themes that seem to permeate the whole record, and though it only tops out at nine songs, it gets a bit wearisome. The biggest detractor on 24K Magic is the consistency and lack of lyrical diversity. It works as a concept album of sorts, but it also makes it easy to zone out.
At times it feels as though Bruno is over-thinking the songs, or trying too hard to fit his ‘80s and ‘90s R&B vision. Some of the songs are cheesy, musically as well as lyrically, as popular music frequently was in those influential decades. And in all the effort to fit the mold, or to describe this world of wealth and romance, Bruno ultimately doesn’t feel as sincere as he did on his first two albums. And perhaps that was his goal.
We still love Bruno, and there are plenty of great moments on 24K Magic. “Perm” has a distinctly James Brown funk that is fun and punchy. “Versace On The Floor” is the kind of slick, romantic R&B ballad ready for a school slow dance circa the mid-90s. Album closer “Too Good To Say Goodbye” is a highlight, and a perfect way to end the too-short record.
Songs like “That’s What I Like” and “Finesse” are enjoyable if you don’t mind the overdone theme. They may work better on their own for that reason. The only tracks that are a little too awkward are “Chunky,” “Straight Up & Down,” and “Calling All My Lovelies.” On the other hand, that last track has some of Bruno’s best vocals here.
Back in the day, Bruno declared that he wants to be a billionaire so freakin’ bad. Now, more than half a decade on, he has all the wealth he dreamed of, but his music seems to have lost some of the charm and sincerity along the way. Now that the surely nerve-wracking follow up to “Uptown Funk” is out of the way, hopefully Bruno will have the peace of mind to get back to the heart-felt music he excels at.
Highlights on 24K Magic include “24K Magic,” “Perm,” and “Too Good To Say Goodbye.”
You can buy 24K Magic on iTunes now.