Friday, December 28, 2012

Drop A Quarter (or Two) Into A Very "Unorthodox Jukebox"

We know exactly what’s on Bruno Mars' mind as we listen to his second album, Unorthodox Jukebox (2012); it’s the same thing that was on Marvin Gayes' mind when he recorded Let’s Get It On (1973): the dual nature of love & sex. It’s not only the sweet, spiritual side of love he's after; it’s the physical, lustier side. The first couple of tracks leave little doubt:  a crooning paean to “Young Girls” who are always tempting him & then, on the driving, Police-like “Locked Out of Heaven,” he says: "your sex takes me to paradise.” Later, on the down & dirty “Gorilla,” Bruno wails about making love with his lady just like the title creature. The record is a bit of a change in direction for Mars. His excellent debut album, Doo-Wops & Hooligans (2010) was filled with catchy tunes like “Grenade” and “Just The Way You Are,” that celebrated the more innocent side of love & longing. This time he’s out to show us his funkier, down & dirty self.

Mars is a talented vocalist, writer-producer and artist who creates sounds that most pop artists would kill for; his talent for hook laden tunes and clever lyrics are still in evidence; especially on songs like the Michael Jackson style “Moonshine” and the Prince-ish funk of “Treasure.” There are hints of rock, reggae, hip-hop & retro soul throughout the album. On tracks like “Natalie” and “Money Make Her Smile,” he talks about gold-diggers who manage to steal his heart, and maybe even a bit of his cash. Not everything is on the darker side, however: “When I Was Your Man” and “If I Knew” are beautiful ballads that are set firmly in Sam Cooke and Stevie Wonder territory. There’s an admirable variety to the musical styles here, as he sings about women, love, sex & money, and how they're all intertwined.

He's out to explore some wide-ranging, adventurous musical territory here, and he largely succeeds. This is a fun record and has excellent beats with R&B swagger & style to spare, though the focus on the carnal may put off some listeners. It’s worth repeated spins, and it manages to chart his growth as a performer. The producers include Mark Ronson (who worked with Amy Winehouse), Jeff Bhasker (who produced Fun’s “We Are Young”) and The Smeezingtons, a collective that includes the artist himself. The album is now available in stores and for online download. The Target edition of the album includes several bonus tracks, including an offbeat collaboration with Esperanza Spalding called “Old & Crazy,” that shows off Mars' lighter side. The 27-year old singer is definitely a talent to watch.

Here's a link to the video for "Locked Out Of Heaven" and the audio for "When I Was Your Man"

A Brief Note: John V's Eclectic Avenue will be back in 2013 with more reviews, reflections and observations; Thanks again for reading and Happy New Year!

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