Music Reviews
3:13 pm
Tue December 11, 2012

Bruno Mars Goes Anyplace And Everyplace On 'Jukebox'

Originally published on Tue December 11, 2012 9:34 pm

I became a Bruno Mars fan in about 60 seconds. It happened in the car, when "Grenade" — from his first album, Doo-Wops & Hooligans — came on the radio. One time through the refrain and I was hooked. With just this album and a string of cameo appearances from the Hawaii-born singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Mars established himself as an elite pop talent.

Like a lot of people, I was curious to see where this guy would go next. The answer, according to his new album: anyplace and everyplace. Unorthodox Jukebox tears through a range of musical styles with head-spinning energy.

"Locked Out of Heaven," the first single from Mars' new album, is a dose of pop euphoria that makes everything else on the radio right now seem drab by comparison. Of course, those alive in the 1980s may hear this song as not quite so new: Some have noted that it's an uncanny imitation of The Police. Mars is a student of the pop hook, and a degree of emulation is part of his game. He can write a tune that borrows huge building blocks from Stevie Wonder or Maroon 5 or Prince, and still somehow sound like himself.

In interviews, Mars talks about his appetite for all kinds of music, and how he doesn't like to be pinned down. Unorthodox Jukebox bears this out. There's a sexy disco send-up ("Treasure"), a skittering electro fantasy ("Natalie") and a thumping pop anthem ("Young Girls").

Not everything on the new album is brilliant; in several tunes, the lyrics amount to generic sex talk, running status updates of his carnal whims and desires. At times it seems his skills as a composer might not be as fully developed as his wickedly expressive singing; but even then, in the most X-rated moments, it's clear that Mars has crazy potential. Maybe he'll harness it differently on some project in the future, and settle into one lane on the expressway. For now, he's all over the road, and it's a pretty fun ride.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It took just one album and some cameo appearances for singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Bruno Mars to establish himself as an elite pop talent. His long awaited second album, "Unorthodox Jukebox," has just been released, and critic Tom Moon says it tears through a range of musical styles with dizzying energy.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: I became a Bruno Mars fan in about 60 seconds. It happened in the car, listening to this song from his first album on the radio. One time through the refrain and I was hooked.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GRENADE")

BRUNO MARS: (Singing) What you don't understand is I'd catch a grenade for you. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Throw my head on a blade for you, yeah, yeah, yeah. I'd jump in front of a train for you. Yeah, yeah...

MOON: Like a lot of people, I was curious to see where this guy would go next. The answer, according to "Unorthodox Jukebox," any place and every place.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOCKED OUT OF HEAVEN")

MARS: (Singing) Swimming in your water is something spiritual. Spiritual, I'm born again every time you spend the night. 'Cause your sex takes me to paradise. Yeah, your sex takes me to paradise and it...

MOON: That little dose of pop euphoria makes everything else on the radio right now seem drab by comparison. Of course, those alive in the 1980s may hear this Bruno Mars single as an uncanny imitation of the Police. Mars is a student of the pop hook and a degree of emulation is part of his game. He can write a tune that borrows in a big way from Stevie Wonder, or Maroon 5, or Prince and still somehow sound like himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOONSHINE")

MARS: (Singing) You're the best way I know to escape the extraordinary. This world ain't for you and I know for damn sure this world ain't for me. Lift off and say goodbye, just let your fire set me free. Oh, moonshine, take us to the stars tonight.

MOON: In interviews, Bruno Mars talks about his appetite for all kinds of music, how he doesn't like to be pinned down. "Unorthodox Jukebox" illustrates this. There's a sexy disco send-up.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TREASURE")

MARS: (Singing) Treasure, that is what you are...

MOON: A skittering electro fantasy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NATALIE")

MARS: (Singing) Natalie, she ran away with all my money and she did it for fun. Natalie...

MOON: And this thumping pop anthem.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOUNG GIRLS")

MARS: (Singing) All you young wild girls, you make a mess of me. You make a mess of me. Yeah, you young wild girls, you'll be the death of me, the death of me. All you young wild girls, no matter what you do, what you do, yeah, you young wild girls, I'll always come back to you, come back to you...

MOON: Not everything on the new Bruno Mars is brilliant. On several tunes, the lyrics amount to running status updates of his carnal whims and desires. At times, it seems his skills as a composer might not be as fully developed as his wickedly expressive singing. But even then, it's clear that Mars has crazy potential. Maybe he'll harness it differently on some project in the future and settle into one lane on the expressway.

Right now, he's all over the road. And, for the most part, it's a fun ride.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MONEY MAKE HER SMILE")

MARS: (Singing) Are you getting back, coming to the stage is a girl who's new in town...

CORNISH: Critic Tom Moon reviewing the new album from Bruno Mars, it's called "Unorthodox Jukebox."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MONEY MAKE HER SMILE")

MARS: (Singing) This pretty little thing, I swear wont let you down. Watch it drop it like...

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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