What do you do as an artist when the song you're best known for lately isn't technically your own? Write nine more just like it that are better, bigger and bolder, and see what the history books have to say about it.
That's the course Bruno Mars took in crafting 24K Magic, his third major studio album. Start to finish, the album listens like one long "Uptown Funk," recycling the boastful, slick pop soul Mars and Mark Ronson delivered on that song with near record-breaking efficiency, into nine to create different versions. They hit various moods: from braggadocious funk to indignant funk to crestfallen funk, always with his shawl lapel firmly creased and shoes shined.
Mars took one streetwalking strut, whose song and video can be justifiably viewed as an ode to the catcall, and turned it into a lifestyle. Divorced from their context, the fun bounce of the songs will definitely find plenty of love on the bar mitzvah circuit, but the greasiness of the lines is so groan-worthy at times that listening to them feels physically draining.
"I bet you want an autograph/ For you and your friends," Mars sings on the album's third track "Perm." "Gotta do it in the penthouse/ That's where I keep my pen." Listeners should make sure to face palm on beat.
On the whole, 24K Magic it a far more even and enjoyable listen than Ronson's Uptown Special, the album that housed the two artists' "Uptown Funk" collab. There aren't nearly as many duds, yet it's unlikely there's a single track here that could go bigger. Because besides having a sorely missed throwback '80s R&B sound and the element of surprise, "Uptown Funk" had something few on this album have: a unique song structure and lyrics that amount to more than pickup lines tossed around in a bar at 3 a.m.
Most New York City women who have ever spent a night in the Meatpacking District have likely heard better lines than those Mars delivers in "Straight Up & Down":
This liquor got both of us faded, so gone, so gone, so gone
But your booty deserve a celebration
And I'm gonna celebrate it all night long
Come on here and show me why you got the whole club starin' at you
On "Chunky," Mars plays "guess the measurements":
You got what I need (I got what you need)
Squeeze all of that into my coupe
Girl, I choose you
The only thing that would make the lines more intolerable is if he had a chorus of girls replying: "It's a honor to be chosen by you, Versace Daddy" — a new nickname for Mars I just made up. In fact, considering how deep the album is willing into to go into open silk shirt, three gold chain territory, it's a wonder the song doesn't. I guess including a recording of Halle Berry's voicemail message on "Calling All My Lovelies" — a song about scolding a prize girl for not picking up the phone when he calls — makes up for that lost opportunity.
Call me next time, Bruno. Together, we'll drum up all the bad ideas.
The album is essentially a 33-minute catcall. The only self-conscious moment on the album is the final song "Too Good to Say Goodbye," in which Mars regrets the way he's objectified all the women he's spoken to across the album's nine tracks.
"I've made mistakes," Mars admits. "I could have treated you better/ I let you get away/ There goes my happily ever after." By the end though, it becomes pretty clear he's only sorry because he no longer has any place to put his "rocket," as he calls his you-know-what in "24K Magic."
Fans of Mars' special brand of vacuum-packaged cheese will find a lot to love on 24K Magic, but in a year filled with truly epic musical offerings, it's hard to see this as anything more than a cash-in on a flash pan hot trend. There are so many places for people to get their soul from, if that's what they're craving — Anderson Paak, the new Childish Gambino, James Fauntleroy.
Mars is the McDonald's dollar menu to all these artists' In-N-Out, Whataburger or Shake Shack, take your pick. Don't fill your ears with trash. Or do. You're free.