Filled to the brim with sex, swearing and '60s soul throwbacks, Bruno Mars' second album is a grown-up, accomplished album that refuses to conform to what's current in the charts.
BRUNO MARS/ UNORTHODOX JUKEBOX
'It was either going to be a disaster, or we were going to come out with something incredible,'' American singer-songwriter Bruno Mars said in one of the interviews preceding the release of Unorthodox Jukebox, the follow-up to his wildly successful debut Doo-Wops & Hooligans. This concern was not unfounded, though, considering the risks Mars took with this album by indulging in what he described as ''freewheeling sessions'', which results in an even more eclectic collection of sounds and genres than his debut.
The Hawaii native's road to stardom began when he scored a vocal guest spot on BoB and Travie McCoy's smash hits Nothin' on You and Billionaire. But it wasn't until his famous paean to a significant other, the now pop classic Just the Way You Are, that catapulted Mars into becoming a household name on a global scale. His debut release Doo-Wops & Hooligans further spawned a number of similar feel-good hits including The Lazy Song and Marry You as well as the heartfelt ballads such as Grenade and Talkin' to the Moon.
While critics and label bigwigs often find Mars' penchant for musical diversity distracting and unmarketable, his success has proved otherwise. Hell-bent on continuing to do things his way, Mars has come out with a worthwhile second album that further attests to his artistic vision and versatility as an artist, plus daring sexual themes to boot. The latter, in particular, is evident on the first single, Locked out of Heaven, on which he candidly moans '''Cause your sex takes me to paradise'', and on Gorilla, the stadium rock number where he casually dishes out a curious analogy: ''You and me, baby, making love like gorillas.''
Show Me is nothing but a watered-down, male interpretation of Rihanna's dancehall hit Rude Boy that comes with a double entendre-filled opening line (''I got a body full of liquor with a cocaine kicker'') coupled with a not-so-subtle message (''It's gettin' freaky in this room, room, room'').
Mars keeps the good times rolling by channelling his inner Jacko on a couple of throwbacks such as Moonshine, If I Knew and Treasure, reconfirming his roots in the old school soul-funk. There's also punk-dance goodness on Money Makes Her Smile whereas the piano ballad, When I Was Your Man, echoes R&B diva Alicia Keys. It may not exactly be on par with an explosive ballad such as Grenade, but he does more than a respectable job in delivering it.
With Unorthodox Jukebox, Mars proves that a good pop record doesn't need to succumb to today's musical trends and fads. In fact, he deliberately avoids them. You won't hear auto-tuning, token rap verses, dupstep breakdowns or Ibiza-ready production from this particular jukebox.
What's also refreshing is that, apart from Mars' own production team the Smeezingtons, the album doesn't come loaded with big-name collaborators (nor does it need to). While the smut and the swearing will most likely turn off some of his fans, Unorthodox Jukebox, musically, is definitely far from being a disaster.
Gene Kasidit/ Keb Kam Wa Rak
The style icon serves up a slice of '80s synth-pop on Keb Kam Wa Rak (Hold Back the Love), the second single off his album Blonde. While the first single, Rak Sanook (NSA), condones no-strings fun and one night stands, this particular number touches upon the relationship that's just not meant to be. ''Hold back the love/Just wait a while until we're both ready to love,'' Gene sings, dispensing words of wisdom over the scintillating synths that evoke veteran '80s electro-pop acts such as Erasure and the Pet Shop Boys.
Dido (featuring Kendrick Lamar)/ Let Us Move On
After his collaboration with Lady Gaga, the much buzzed-about American hip hop artist Kendrick Lamar lends his expertise to British songstress Dido on Let Us Move On, the first taste of her upcoming fourth studio album, Girl Who Got Away. Much in the same vein as Eminem's mega hit Stan (which prominently samples Dido's Thank You), the track has a brooding electronic backdrop that showcases Dido's placid, melancholic vocals. ''Like the waters and the open sea/With tribulation come over you say yes hopefully,'' Lamar barges in during the second half, doing what he does best. While it may not be as catchy as Stan, this is still a pretty exciting pairing, and we can't wait to see what other surprises she has in store for us.
50 Cent (featuring Eminem and Adam Levine)/ My Life
Even rapper 50 Cent can't resist jumping on the collaboration bandwagon. Here, he teams up with fellow MC Eminem and pop-rock heartthrob Maroon 5's frontman Adam Levine on his new single, My Life. Taken from 50 Cent's forthcoming fifth studio album, Street King Immortal, the song reads like the rapper's autobiography as he talks about how he ''went from plain filthy to filthy rich'' and that he's ''doing what I'm supposed to, I'm a writer, I'm a fighter/Entrepreneur, fresh out the sewer, watch me manoeuver.'' With Levine taking the reins on the hook, 50 Cent finally declares: ''This is my recovery, my comeback, kid.'' It's ironic, though, since it's actually Eminem who steals the show in this three-way joint venture.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (featuring Wanz)/ Thrift Shop
Indie rapper Ben Haggerty, aka Macklemore, finally breaks through to the mainstream with the insanely catchy, all-around quirky jam called Thrift Shop. We know we're in for a fun ride once guest vocalist Wanz has announced: ''I'm gonna pop some tags, only got $20 in my pocket.'' Macklemore then takes us on a bargain-hunting quest where he bought random articles like a broken keyboard, a skeet blanket and a knee board. We can't help but grin when the hand-me-down enthusiast goes on to flaunt: ''I wear your granddad's clothes, I look incredible/Explain I'm in this big ass coat from that thrift shop down the road.''
On Adorn, American R&B crooner Miguel delivers an impressively textured declaration of affection that gives the kings of R&B ballads such as Usher and Ne-Yo a run for their money. The song features elements of soul and electro while Miguel wears his heart on his sleeve, singing: ''Let my love adorn you, baby ... the same way that the stars adorn the skies/The same way that my whole world's in your eyes.'' The lyrics may be cloying, and the song would have been a cliche fest if it wasn't for the masterful production that goes well beyond the run-of-the-mill R&B offerings.
About the author
Writer: Chanun Poomsawai