The national press might only now have clocked on to the success of Tinie Tempah in 2010, but there was also a Stateside import who enjoyed similar riches, though so far with lesser hindsight recognition.
Bruno Mars was the voice behind some of the year’s biggest hits, including Billionaire and Nothing On You. And as a co-writer of CeeLo Green‘s chart-topping Fuck You, he’s looking to invest in a larger chest for all his royalties. Add to those achievements the remarkable end-of-year success of Just The Way You Are and the fact that at the time of writing, current single Grenade sits pretty at the top of the charts, he’s building on the momentum that swept through from last year.
Of course, it’s not actually all dandy and, well, Doo-Wops. In September Mars was arrested with possession of cocaine and has a February date penned in for a much-postponed court trial. But any harm done to his reputation is quietly phased out by the singer-songwriter’s first full length album.
Despite the title, Mars’ debut doesn’t pitch its tent in la-la land. Granted, Just The Way You Are is without rival the sappiest ballad to grace our music channels for some time, disguised as a quirky pop song by having the tempo stepped up a notch. And yes, The Lazy Song, which narrates on one of Mars’ “off-days”, involving watching the TV with his hands down his pants, is nauseatingly smug and zany. Yet the bewitching inclusion of a token reggae song, featuring Damian Marley, has Bruno reciting his sorrow and “liquor store blues”. There’s a bad side to this Hawaiian-born, bright-eyed youngster, but only here is it hinted at.
Now, here’s what’s wrong with Doo-Wops And Hooligans. The album’s ethos involves throwing everything into the fire. We move from the silky, Michael Jackson-esque Our First Time, where we find Mars making a charming comparison: “Like ice cream on a sunny day, gonna eat you before you melt away.” Then immediately after, we’re thrown into bad-boy pop-punk realms during Runaway Baby, with its police sirens and scratchy guitar lines.
It’s a contrast taken too far. Think of every single The X-Factor special you’ve ever been subjected to watching. Now, most likely you’ll remember whole two-hour slots devoted to Jackson, Elton John and Mariah Carey. Mars has quite remarkably extracted themes from every one of those shows, incorporating each into his debut, from glossy, over-sentimental ballads (Talking To The Moon) to an all-out, shameless dispatching of joy (Marry Song).
That’s the weakness of many debut pop albums. They can’t help but be opportunistic, covering all bases and ensuring that, regardless of any forthcoming trends in pop, there’s a song on the album, pitched to take grasp of it all. The duets with CeeLo and Marley feel false, as does the gleeful mood of the title and the majority of the songs. But one must admit that legitimacy won’t come into the equation of Doo-Wop’s sales, which should be colossal given Mars’ current run of form.