Bruno Mars – 24K Magic
This album has been four years in the making, Mars released his last album Unorthodox Jukebox in 2012, and it was certainly worth the wait. Following on from his major success with Mark Ronson with their hit ‘Uptown Funk’, as well as getting involved with backing for Ronson’s album track ‘Feel Right’ with Mystikal, Mars has learned how to utilise the power of nostalgia without sounding too corny or imitative. This album offers a satisfying blend of 80s funk and 90s slow jams, with clear influences and homages throughout. However, the writing and production teams, including Mars, are able to replicate these nostalgic styles whilst managing to keep them contemporary and distinctive. This is no mean feat, many artists struggle to recreate old styles without sounding overproduced and generic because there is a fine line between suave homage and soulless imitation, Mars’ team have placed themselves perfectly on that line.
You would be forgiven for thinking that Mars is discussing themes that seem dated, irrelevant and maybe even offensive, such as luxurious lifestyles and sexualisation of women. However, if you listen to the album properly it is quite clear that Bruno Mars is simply trying to evoke memories of 80s/90s music; there is a fondness from the singer towards this music and he is not a chauvinist nor an arrogant show-off. These songs are able to almost parody the lavish lifestyles portrayed in music from 90s rappers, and artists involved in the New Jack Swing phase, without crossing into The Lonely Island or Weird Al Yankovic territory. What makes this album seem unique, in comparison to much of the current mainstream pop, is the attention to detail along with well written music and lyrics. The tracks that appear on 24K Magic are not the standard churned out songs by many of today’s pop music artists, such as anyone ever from The X Factor, which tend to be repetitive, generic, and follow the sound fad of the moment. These songs are wonderfully nostalgic and the influences are impossible to ignore, but that is the point, Mars is trying to emulate the styles of the past for an audience of the present, and he does a bloody grand job of it.
The lead single ‘24K Magic’ is a great blend of 80s synth pop and the aforementioned 90s sound he is aiming for. ‘Chunky’ is an absolute banger, which seems to take influences from anyone who was anyone twenty years ago, specifically a blend of Luther Vandross, Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson, and Prince. This second track seems better than the title number, it has a sexy synth and some cracking vocals from Mars, showing off both his range and ability. The third track of the album is my favourite, it is delightfully funky and easily comparable to James Brown, it’s a cracking tune where the horns, guitar, and in fact all of the song elements are absolutely on point. There are also a number of songs here that were built for a baby-making playlist, notable the MJ/Freddie Jackson inspired number ‘Versace on the Floor’ and the R&B slow jam ‘That’s What I Like’. It’s hard not to love all of the well-placed sound effects and the great use of vocoder or synths throughout 24K Magic; there’s a hilarious use of a sexy and deep spoken voice on ‘Calling All My Lovelies’. The artwork is pretty damn cool, I cannot help but praise Bruno Mars for his swagger here, he might be showing off about his riches and lifestyle but he does it in such a funny and polished way that you shouldn’t really care. The work here by producers Shampoo Press and Curl is well-refined and sophisticatedly groovy, they are rumoured to be a new iteration of Mars’ old writing trio The Smeezingtons, with original partner Philip Lawrence and newcomer Christopher Brown. Despite the evident nostalgic sound of this album, it stands out from other releases at the same level of popularity and fame due to the complexity of the songwriting, and tantalising position on the line between craftsmanship and cheese. There’s also a Halle Berry cameo. This is an album to get freaky on the dancefloor and in the bedroom.