Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Throwback LP: Bruno Mars - Unorthodox Jukebox

It’s hard to imagine that after over 50 years of rock and roll we would find a recording artist who is truly original. In today’s musical landscape with its multitude of influential legends, it may be impossible. For instance outfits worn by Grace Jones 30 years ago have been rehashed by Lady Gaga. Adele’s bluesy “Rolling in the Deep” recalls a young Etta James as it borrows heavily from 60’s R&B.

That realization brings me to Bruno Mars, arguably Michael Jackson’s newest and most successful vocal doppelganger. Mars released his sophomore album Unorthodox Jukebox Dec 10th, and it‘s the best throwback LP I‘ve heard in a while.

Jukebox opens with a hot tribal beat on the radio ready “Young Girls” where Mars confesses he just can’t leave the “bright eyed honeys” alone. By track seven, the eerie “Natalie,” he’s a little more perturbed, telling his gold digging ex to lock her door and run. Apparently his days of taking a grenade for his girl are over. Did somebody rub him the wrong way?  “When I Was Your Man” further cements the possibility of a heart break as Mars powerfully belts “too young, too dumb to realize that I should have bought you flowers” over a simple piano backing.

Filler track “Treasure” sounds like something from the Off the Wall recording session. It’s also a eureka moment for listeners who couldn’t quite name Mars’ vocal influence  -- that being Michael Jackson. “Moonshine” continues the Jackson influence with its lush, ethereal 80’s production. I can imagine hearing it on easy listening radio after The Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” Speaking of The Police, lead single “Locked Out of Heaven” borrows a loop or two from “Roxanne” or “Can’t Stand Losing You” but to good effect. The song’s a funky record that just demands a repeated listen.

Mars brings listeners to his homeland of Hawaii with reggae tinged “Show Me,” and then takes them to the club with sexy stripper anthem “Money Makes Her Smile.” The latter boasts a production assist from Diplo but still serves as one of the album‘s weaker tracks. The closer “If I Knew” brings to mind Sam Cooke’s soulful civil rights piece “A Change is Gonna Come.” It’s another successful attempt at paying homage to past greats.

Unorthodox Jukebox may just be the closest thing to pop perfection on radio right now, even if it does borrow -- albeit to good effect -- so conspicuously from the past.

Tracks for your MP3 player:

Bruno Mars - Locked out of Heaven
Bruno Mars - Gorilla
Bruno Mars - Moonshine
Bruno Mars - Show Me