“How far can I spread the cheese?” That’s the question Bruno Mars must have asked himself while writing his new album 24K Magic. With so many features on other artists’ work, it’s easy to forget that this is the Hawaiian crooner’s first solo record since 2012’s Unorthodox Jukebox. Mars had a good thing going on Mark Ronson’s monster hit Uptown Funk, so he decided to keep mining the same retro genres on his new release.
By now, everyone knows the disco-ready title track and lead single, but the following track Chunky is just as fun. Over keytar noodling, a clap track, and soulfully sassy backing vocals, Mars shouts out “to the girls who pay their rent” and wear “big gold hoops”. He then tries to resurrect the spirit of funk master James Brown on Perm. 24K moonwalks from the ’70s to dig out the best of ’80s and ’90s R&B, which gives the album the same rose-tinted hip-hop nostalgia of Gwen Stefani’s Love. Angel. Music. Baby.
The singer lives up to his Lothario image with some eyebrow-raisingly sleazy lines on That’s What I Like, but raises a few giggles on the ridiculous Calling All My Lovelies. “I got Aleesha waiting, Ayeesha waiting, all the other ‘eeshas waiting,” goes the chorus, as Mars reminds his date that there are others in the line. (Spoiler: we find out at the end that it’s actress Halle Berry that he’s been relentlessly badgering.)
The Marimba-soaked Versace On The Floor is Mars’ Michael Jackson moment, combining not-so-subtle lyrics with more keytar and some impressive vocal lifts. Mars will use his cheeky charmer persona to fend off any criticism against certain lyrical choices that sometimes seem demeaning towards the women he’s romancing. The throwback music may be trendy again, but the objectification is not.
Slickly produced and heavy in its classic R&B influences, 24K Magic comes off a bit squeaky clean-sounding and lightweight in comparison to the legends Mars pays homage to. But, the nine neatly-rounded, catchy tracks are mostly lean material and will give critics who say Mars is only good on other people’s songs something to chew on.