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Bruno Mars: Doo-Wops & Hooligans
The pure pop vocals of Peter Gene Hernandez, better known as Bruno Mars, have become a familiar sound on pop radio waves.
Cute as a button with a clean-cut image, Mars’ style harkens back to the age of early pop, with enough auto-tune tweaks and hot topic references to keep it in the 2000s. His tilted fedora and boyish smile make Mars a shoe-in for pop heartthrob of the hour. However, a recent arrest for cocaine possession and allusions to a darker side (he does cite Tupac as one of his key influences, after all) might lend him just enough of a bad boy edge to keep him intriguing.
This Hawaii native worked his way up through the music industry, first establishing himself as a music producer for big names such as Travis McCoy, Sean Kingston, Cee Lo Green (he produced Green’s summer hit ‘F*** You’) and B.O.B.
Mars’ debut studio album Doo-Wops & Hooligans plays like a collection of premium pop references, re-mastered with an expert hand. ‘Talking to the Moon’ has a little Chris Martin; ‘The Lazy Song’ sounds a bit like Jason Mraz; the acoustic ‘Count on Me’ even more so; ‘Liquor Store Blues’ is full of reggae pop with the help of Damian Marley’s guest vocals.
The chart-topping ‘Just the Way You Are’ has enjoyed considerable airplay on international mainstream radio, and we can’t switch on Nile FM without hearing the song. The track sums up all of Bruno Mars’ successful elements; clear vocals, cheeky sentimentality, and mass female appeal as the guy who isn’t afraid to talk about his feelings and put it into song. Could this song be a direct response to the Beyoncé/Alicia Keys collaboration ‘Put it in a Love Song,’ which asked boys to grow up and tell their ladies how they feel already? If so, he may be even more cunning than we thought.
‘Our First Time’ branches out a little with a reggae beat and some more varied vocal techniques, a bouncy chorus and falsetto twists, playing with the musicality of the track rather than dwelling on a lengthy pop strain. Granted, Mars’ lyrics stop short of revolutionary: ‘Treat you like a princess/ Girl you’re so delicious/ Like ice cream on a sunny day’ might make you squirm a little with its blatant pop-cheesiness, but the charm lies in the honest pop that Mars produces.
‘Run Away Baby’ evokes the early music of the late Michael Jackson, à la ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ and ‘Beat It’. Although Mars’ rock ‘n’ roll take is a little softer around the edges, he does execute the pop king’s signature exaggerated gasp with precision.
As an album, Doo-Wops & Hooligans is well executed, polished and light. However, it’s difficult to tell if the young Bruno Mars is still finding his way or if he is just expertly shuffling the cards and trying on different sounds for size.
Just ask Guns ‘n Roses’ Axl Rose or try and listen to any recent Korn album without cringing. Many bands quit (R.E.M., Sonic Youth), others tone down their sound (Metallica) and some keep regurgitating what they’ve been doing for decades (The Rolling Stones).
Kim Thayil’s guitar traditionally wails around on the dissonant side of the spectrum and singer Chris Cornell still deals out high-pitched screeches like a rock version of Celine Dion – but they have audibly matured. And considering that the grunge kids of two decades ago have aged with them, many will appreciate this more grown-up, adult sound.
After 52 minutes, one question remains: now that Soundgarden seems to have arrived at their definitive sound, will they become one of those established bands that don’t evolve anymore? Like fellow Seattle-ites Pearl Jam, or grandfathers of rock Aerosmith, for example. Or will they continue to develop their sound, like Muse or Radiohead?