If I’m a sucker for anything, it’s someone who can write a great melody. Maybe it comes from me being such a big Michael Jackson fan. Maybe it comes from growing up in the Eighties, an era when even the worst songs had memorable memories (c’mon, think about it). But when someone hits that sweet spot with melodic pop goodness, well…I’m putty in their hands more often than not.
Which brings me to Bruno Mars. If you take a look at his songwriting pedigree, there’s a clunker or two in there (see: “Right Round” by Flo Rida). But overall, the guy’s got some pretty serious pen game skills. B.O.B.’s “Nothin’ On You”? Check. Brandy’s “Long Distance”? (which I didn’t even realize he wrote until I typed his name into iTunes earlier today) Great song. Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You”? Candidate for single of the year. With all that in mind, I should have jumped on his debut album as an artist, “Doo Wops & Hooligans”, a little earlier than I did.
Silly title aside, “Doo Wops” might be the best contemporary pop release of 2010. Mars has a knack for the earworm-many of these songs will be ringing in your dome piece long after the CD has stopped playing. Additionally, Bruno has one of those smooth, boyish voices that’s perfect for the brand of pop/soul he sings. If I’d compare him to anyone, I’d say take the less annoying half of Jason Mraz, take a less R&B-centric version of Ne-Yo, and stick them in a blender together. The end result? An album that’s solid from beginning to end (seriously…only one track on the album got less than a 4-star rating from me on iTunes).
Bruno knows his lane-a very important thing to know if you’re a musician, and “Doo Wops” deftly straddles the line between pop and soul, between cutesy and racy, while adding in a bit of island flavor to boot (Mars was born in Hawaii). He sounds just as at home hanging out with Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley on “Liquor Store Blues” as he does singing a pure love song like the recent #1 hit “Just the Way You Are” (nope, it’s not the Billy Joel classic, although I could totally see Mars tackling it). The smooth “The First Time” adds a little bit of island flavor to the early-Nineties R&B sound perfected by acts like Boyz II Men and Color Me Badd (with a bit of MJ flair), while “The Lazy Song” has more in common with pop/rock singer-songwriters like the aforementioned Mraz and fellow Hawaiian Jack Johnson. It also boasts my favorite lyrics of any song on the album-I could’ve written that song myself. He even does a little bit of rock flirtation with the cheesy/catchy “Runaway Baby”. Mars might not be a powerhouse vocalist, but (like most folks who write their own songs) he knows what to do with his voice. All of the material (and it’s a pretty versatile album sonically) fits him perfectly.
If you’re looking for a pop album that hits front-to-back and doesn’t assault your taste by being oversexualized or just plain nasty (paging Rihanna, Ke$ha and the like), you can do a lot worse than Bruno Mars’ debut. He may have penned hits for other artists, but “Doo Wops” suggests that he was saving the best material for himself.