Following the success of his debut album, Doo-wops and Hooligans, likeable young soul-pop chap Bruno Mars has a lot to live up to. It was a lively, often wildly inventive pop album that sold more than six million copies, and its string of hit singles made him the biggest selling digital artist of 2011. And that soaring tenor of his, part soul superstar with a little bit of rock rawness to it, made Mars an important new voice and musician on the scene.
So when Unorthodox Jukebox's first single, Locked Out of Heaven, came out he was seemingly on track to nail his second coming. Because even though the song is a rip-off of the Police it was yet another catchy and celebratory capsule of pop perfection.
But when you are an ambitious and musically restless tunesmith like Mars, making a whole album palatable is a different story. And, initially at least, for all its impressive genre-hopping and sonic shifts, Unorthodox Jukebox comes across as a little incoherent. Which means Mars, who it has to be said is a smoothie both in voice and style, never fully gets his silky flow on.
And then there's a tendency to lean too heavily on his influences, even though more often than not he pulls it off like on Locked Out of Heaven for example, and the fun and funky Earth Wind and Fire groove of Treasure, a sunny summertime treat.
Be warned though because within this mix of styles there are some weak links, like reggae dub tune Show Me, which has some nice steel pan touches and galactic sonic outbursts, but is otherwise drab and limp. It's the Mars equivalent of New Zealand's barbecue reggae-meets-Sweet Lovers by the Holidaymakers. A song like that is not worthy of a talented chap like him. And the breathless banging of Natalie is, well, a bit brainless.
But give the guy and this album a chance because Gorilla, with beats by production wunderkind Mark Ronson, shows a tougher, bad boy side to Mars where he's off snorting cocaine and wreaking havoc - and it suits him, because before he was just a little too good to be true. It's by far his most interesting song to date too, as it moves between aching and soulful to serenading and grand.
Then there's Money Make Her Smile, a weird mix of progressive soul, 80s synth pop, and yapping house music, with Mars' infatuation with Michael Jackson in full effect; in total contrast, When I Was Your Man is just Mars and his piano, and last track If I Knew is a lovely, gutsy nod to the roots of soul music.
Though Unorthodox Jukebox is not quite the follow-up he needed to capitalise on the promise he showed on Doo-wops, there's no denying his talent.
Verdict: Yet to reach his full potential
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- TimeOutBy Scott Kara @scottkara Email Scott