Review: Bruno Mars’ solo debut ‘Doo-Wops and Hooligans’

10.04.10 7 years ago 2 Comments

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Critiquing Bruno Mars’ solo debut “Doo-Wops and Hooligans” isn’t so much dissecting a finished, single product, but tackling the artist and his trajectory whole. The set is another example of throwing a whole batch of a priority artist’s songs at the wall to see what sticks, with Katy Perry’s uneven “Teenage Dream” from EMI being another example from this year.

It’s easy to pick out the strengths of the 24-year-old songwriter Mars — who’s part of the Smeezington’s production crew and who’s frequented the Top 40 as a guest vocalist, co-writer and producer. His voice could halt traffic, rising and lilting on top notes with an almost feminine quality. He pushes that epic pop range of his, creating tension rather than discomfort. He knows when to hold the cheese and when to pile it on in the production effects, and the verses know to yield to the killer choruses, which seem to seep so easily from him.
But what seems to be lacking – and what hopefully will come with his sophomore set – is soul. I don’t have much better idea of who Bruno Mars is and what kind of artist he wants to be, aside from filthy rich (as indicated in his co-write on Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire”) and in love with love.  
Take the opening one-two punch of second single and current single “Grenade” and “Just the Way You Are,” respectively. I had to do a double take to make sure I didn’t have my music player on single-song repeat, despite the treacly minor chords on the former. Still, both contain the winning combination military beats over the same tempo, with serious-as-a-heartache lyrical content akin to his co-write on smash hit “Nothin on You” by B.o.B.
On “Runaway Baby,” he has much more in common with Janelle Monae, and not just in haircut: he tries to cut his soul-pop with garage rock, leading to more head-cocking than applause. “The Lazy Song” is largely useless in advancing his Star Power, but at least it has a chorus perfectly fit to sell cotton products or baby shampoo or, well, Snuggies, since he actually name-drops the product-with-sleeves in the song.
Nothing else on the set sounds like sexy-time-jam “Our First Time,” which delves loosely into R&B, nor “Talking to the Moon,” a ballad with electric piano and dripping with tear-stained reverb that hearkens Justin Timberlake just after he stepped out from N*SYNC. (The latter track is a likely contender for another follow-up single, should “Grenade” refuse to explode.)
While there’s a breath of island influence all over the Hawaii-native’s release, the Damian Marley-enhanced “Liquor Store Blues” tries embracing a full reggae style. It fails in that our loverboy tries to act all tough despite his high register, like he’s trying to administer violence with cotton candy clutched in his hand. “Count on Me” has those beach-bound bongos bounding behind a sandy-sweet tune from which McCoy would be better served stealing.
“The Other Side” is a real treat, slipped onto the very end. Guest star and recent collaborator Cee-Lo is underutilized, but then again, the Goodie Mob rapper and crooner had his own hit with “F*ck You,” yet another hit track co-penned by Mars. B.o.B. has his own moment too, a reminder of yet another artist trying to tie pop with his own brand of urban- and dance-influenced singles.
This is a critical time moment for Mars, to see if the album can survive and thrive in the forthcoming holiday season as the singles are farmed out to radio. So far, he’s succeeded in a No. 1 hit on his own and has a face fit for the next Grammys ceremony. But I could see him, too, sink as a solo artist like Pharrell – who is sickly talented as producer and supporter but still struggles in sales as a performing artist.
Thankfully for Elektra/Atlantic, everything on “Doo-Wops and Hooligans” sounds like a potential hit, whether it’s “Lazy” in TV commercials, “Marry You” walking down the aisle or “Just the Way You Are” on the dial. If he can show up live and stay out of trouble (best of luck in Las Vegas), Mars should be a star.

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