R&B time-traveler, nostalgia-curator Bruno Mars is back– and he’s back big. You’ve all heard 24K Magic on the radio, but what else is Bruno throwing at us with this one?
With the release of his third studio album, Bruno Mars brings us another musical masterpiece. Except, this time, he’s sporting a silky, blood red short suit with the trappings of extravagant wealth dangling from his neck and wrists. On the cover, he sits next to a gold crest branded with the words “Bruno Mars XXIVK Magic” as if he’s selling us his own brand of perfectly packaged cigars.
It’s fascinating to take a trip down memory lane with Mars. From his first hit collab Billionaire with Travie McCoy to his sex-jam ballad Gorilla, he’s managed to move from a fedora-wearing, Jason Mraz clone six years ago to whatever beautiful, musical hybrid he is now. That transition wasn’t a particularly easy one, though. There are a lot of people that didn’t buy Bruno the first time around; thinking his music was pleasant and catchy, but nothing to get on vinyl and frame on your wall. Yet, by the time Bruno’s sophomore album Unorthodox Jukebox was released, this had all magically changed. Maybe it was The Police-esque sound of Locked Out of Heaven that spoke to people, or perhaps it was the surfacing of his flawlessly inappropriate mugshot grin after a 2010 arrest in Las Vegas. Apparently, all it takes is a bluecoat run-in with cocaine possession for the musical world to be convinced of one’s badassery. Whichever it is, we are thankful.
24K Magic is the 80s funk album Prince never made. It highlights an impressive number of R&B micro-movements of the 80s and 90s with a track list that offers everything from the classic 80s slow jam like Versace on the Floor to full blown 90s Boyz II Men vibe on Calling All My Lovelies. As you sink deeper and deeper into the album, the sounds of the artists Bruno grew up dancing to become very clear. The third song on the album, titled Perm, features tight drums and a funky horn melody as Bruno shows us his best James Brown impression…and it’s spot on. That’s the beauty of this album: its ability to play like a crazy, James Brown dance party with slow jams here and there to let us catch our breath.
While 24K Magic was the first single and will probably receive the most radio play, Straight Up & Down is a personal favourite and might just be the best song on the album. With a serious Silk vibe, the track could easily be song number one on everyone’s sex-jam playlist. He’s also undoubtedly paying homage to Paula Abdul with this track. One cannot repeat the words “straight up” that many times without giving her a well-deserved shout out:
With Bruno channeling his inner Brown, Jackson, Abdul, and Prince throughout the album, there’s almost no room for error. At first, the only problem I could find was the misogynistic nature of most of the lyrics. As a feminist, I had a difficult time critiquing this album without throwing Bruno an eye-roll every time he told me to “activate my sex” or referenced textbook rape culture lyrics. Just because Bruno sings “there’s that smile I’m looking for…was that so hard?” over a catchy beat in Perm, doesn’t mean that I’m not immediately taken right back to one of the many times I’ve been told by a not-so-funny, arrogant man to “lighten up!” after he tells me a sexist joke. However, it’s important to note that the era of music Bruno is encapsulating here makes it nearly impossible for him to produce the album without an eyebrow-raising lyric. So, while Bruno’s feminism is very flawed (arguably non-existent) and we must be critical of this while making our way through the album, I cannot centre my critique through this lens because then I would have to hate the entire album– a statement that would be an outright lie. So, in the spirit of staying true to my initial love for this music but against my feminist politics, I must continue to critique this album for what it really is: Bruno’s field trip down musical memory lane with us in the passenger seat.
With only 9 tracks, the album wraps up after about 34 minutes, which makes it feel like you’ve been invited to an insane retro-throwback dance party only to get thrown out a half hour later. But, after the 700th listen, I’ve decided that Mars probably did this on purpose. The album doesn’t try too hard and it doesn’t overstay its welcome, which is essentially what makes it brilliant. It leaves us all wanting more while simultaneously making us grieve for those 90s boy-band harmonies that used to melt our hearts. It somehow lets us channel our inner MJ and James Brown all at once. It reminds us that when the charts are particularly dry we can count on Bruno to make pop fun again. So, in the spirit of having fun, let’s live vicariously through Bruno’s world of fame, sex, money, and “beach houses in Miami” that this album invites us to.
And, of course, let’s dance.