Bruno Mars, “24K Magic”
When Bruno Mars hit the ground running with 2010’s short-but-sweet Doo-Wops & Hooligans, he came across like an old school, jack of all trades figure in the present day of glossy, positive pop. Great and good as an emotive yet somehow cool singer, Mars jacked up the heat with 2012’s sweller-still Unorthodox Jukebox by allowing himself to become an Off the Wall–era Michael Jackson type with the likes of Mark Ronson, Benny Blanco, and Diplo acting as his collective Quincy Jones. Ronson was the mixologist that truly stuck out from the lot, however, as the pair went on to make the Minneapolis sound–inspired “Uptown Funk” in 2014 for the producer’s Uptown Special album. As far as earworms go, Mars swallowed the nematode whole while sipping hot-to-the-tongue tequila.
For 24K Magic, Mars bucks the decade up a smidge to root himself in the sprightly ’90s. That means there are elements of that era’s then-new sound: some Jam & Lewis gear-grinding pulses and stereophonic orchestral swipes from the left and the Motownphilly R&B of Boyz II Men, to say nothing of the chirpy soul that made En Vogue a delight and Color Me Badd tragic. Mars’s silken vocals work the grooves and sinewy melodies, especially on the new-jack swinging “Finesse.” But the cheesy tones of “Versace on the Floor” show that Mars can be both trite and torrid when it comes to plastic, flossy funk.
Unlike the no-track-wasted effectiveness of his first two albums, 24K wastes parts of its preciously short running time on a ballad with Babyface (the listless “Too Good to Say Goodbye“), a phone book–flipping escapade that never achieves sexual fruition (“Calling All My Lovelies”), and a jam-on-it mess (“Straight Up & Down” with T-Pain).
Luckily, Mars moves so quickly that even his mistakes are brief, and the singer and co-composer finds himself in top form on “Chunky,” the humorous “Perm,” and the warming title track. Though it’s not without its missteps, 24K Magic is at its best when it returns to the more naturalistic neo-soul of his first and most organic album—without losing the swing.