24K Magic

Bruno Mars

Atlantic, 2016


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Perhaps surprisingly, Bruno Mars’ third album chooses to build on his huge 2014 collaborative hit “Uptown Funk” (with Mark Ronson) instead of his multiplatinum sophomore disc Unorthodox Jukebox, which showed the artist expanding his musical horizons and limiting his lyrical ones. In deference to its gold-plated title, 24K Magic is all superficial gloss, a funky, retro R&B/soul/pop disc that barely exceeds half an hour in its runtime.

“Uptown Funk” also updated classic tropes for the modern era and scored a massive hit, and that seemed to spur Mars to create more music in that same vein. He enforced a dress code in the studio, wrote lyrics about as deep as a kiddie pool (“Pretty girls all around me / And they keep waking up the rocket” is typical) and posed for the most ridiculous cover of the year.

I can’t believe any of this is real, but as a put-on it’s hilarious, a rap video with bling ‘n’ hoes brought to life and time-warped back to 1990. There’s little in common with modern R&B here, but you can hear Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey in “Versace On The Floor,” James Brown in “Perm,” new jack swing and Bobby Brown all over the place. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 24K Magic is lush and overproduced, full of male bragging (“I got too many girls on hold / For you to be so bold” he croons coldly in “Calling All My Lovelies”) and endless odes to upscale, rich-dude partying, the kind normal people can never relate to.

This may prove to be the album’s undoing when it’s all said and done. Lyrically problematic as it was, Unorthodox Jukebox mined a rich vein of songwriting on “Treasure,” “Moonshine,” “When I Was Your Man,” and “Locked Out Of Heaven” (I exclude “Gorilla,” a horrible song by anyone’s measure), and those songs have stood up over the last four years in a genre where disposability is not concerning. I can’t see anyone in four years clamoring to hear “Calling All My Lovelies,” since it is all surface masking nearly nothing underneath.

To be fair, Mars is a lot of fun, charming and bold, grinning his way through the entire disc (witness the solid Bell Biv Devoe update “Finesse”) and singing his ass off.  The title song, “Chunky,” and “Perm” are a killer opening trio as far as funky party pop songs go; they should be on the next Now! collection any minute now. And “Too Good To Say Goodbye” is yet another entry into the classic category of heartfelt R&B ballads, although with the old-school ‘90s sound instead of whatever they do in 2016. It’s a nice way to end the party, showing some actual heart under the glitz.

The thing is, you can have gloss and glamour, champagne and suits, pretty dresses and cocktails and gold jewelry and sunglasses at night, your life a party where money is no object and everyone has fun. I think that was the basis for Barney Stinson’s entire character on How I Met Your Mother. Only Barney was pretty much a live action cartoon with almost nothing under the surface, and so it is with the majority of 24K Magic. All the layers of sound and references to hashtags and expensive shoes can’t mask mediocre songwriting, especially from a superstar who has done better and knows better. But damned if it isn’t a fun way to spend half an hour.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2016 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic, and is used for informational purposes only.