Album review: Bruno Mars, Unorthodox Jukebox (Atlantic)
Sweet soul music as Bruno Mars the mimic finds his own voice
In today's talent-show-dominated entertainment world, no quality seems more highly prized than the ability to imitate.
Legions of the tone-deaf queue up to show how laughably they can ape Mariah Carey's melismatics; but bang out a show tune in a half-decent approximation of a cruise-ship siren, and the world will beat a path to your door: these are the poles upon which The X Factor's appeal is strung, and they poke malignantly into the rest of pop. So although Bruno Mars is a talented chap, he's forced to demean his abilities by echoing other artists' former glories on Unorthodox Jukebox, whose title all but gives the game away.
Most of the echoes thrown off by these 10 tracks understandably bring to mind Michael Jackson: the gold-diggers of "Money Make Her Smile" and "Natalie" are clearly cousins of "Dirty Diana" and "Billie Jean", their shortcomings squawked breathlessly over insipid synth-pop.
But elsewhere other Eighties ghosts haunt the album. Bruno demonstrates a keen appreciation of Patrice Rushen's funk-pop on "Treasure"; a talent for McCartney-esque piano balladry on "When I Was Your Man"; and most glaringly of all on the single "Locked out of Heaven", a command of The Police's limber R&B pop style. Only the veneer of 21st-century sexuality pasted over the song saves it from tribute-band homage.
Which is not to say that there aren't more pleasingly individual tracks among the 10: Bruno's impassioned shame at dumbly trying to impress "these bright-eyed honeys" is carried by methodical string and wind quadruplets and floppy, Spector-esque tom-toms on the enjoyable "Young Girls", while his daring admission of unbridled sensuality in "Gorilla" is keenly swathed by Diplo's deep swirl of synths and big beats. And the gentle reggae skank of "Show Me", rooted in his native Hawaiian influence, finds Mars's voice ideally suited to cool-ruler-style crooning.
But it's the closing dip into deep-soul pleading on "If I Knew" that assures the brightness of his future: for once, it's just a style, not a specific copy of another artist, and it allows Bruno the space to express his own sweet character.
Download: Young Girls; Locked out of Heaven; Gorilla; If I Knew
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