It’s not often that pop gets it right. The Golden Age has definitely been and gone. Unfortunately, our generation has been stuck with a mixture of wet flannels feebly strumming acoustic guitars and heinously rich and talentless ‘DJ’s with too many synths and too little imagination. But every so often, someone that can actually compose music permeates the mainstream. I’m talking Mark Ronson, Pharrell, occasionally Beyonce. These are people that have been around the block a few times and know what it really takes to make people sit up and listen. They can play the game without their souls dying from poisonous pandering.
Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d say: Bruno Mars has talent. Yeah, screw it, he’s funky as shit and I’m about to tell you why.
When Mars’ debut album, “Doo-Wops and Hooligans” came out I was less than impressed. I was on the cusp of music snobbery and thought myself above anything that reached even close to the Billboard charts. I really believed that if enough people liked something, it must be awful. It was only underground or semi-alternative artists that appealed to me. In those days, I thought Mumford and Sons could do no wrong and everything Ben Howard sung was beautiful and mysterious. I turned out to be mistaken on both counts but I had far too much pride to admit it. Since then, I’ve guiltily listened to Taylor Swift on the private mode of Spotify too many times to deny the fact that I can listen to pop music. Some of it is popular for a damn good reason. The people aren’t always wrong.
The 2010 album “Doo-Wops and Hooligans” is full of cheesy numbers. We all remember the painful crooning on “Grenade” and “Just The Way You Are”. But hell, you were not a musical pre-teen if you didn’t look up the chords to “The Lazy Song” at least once. As much gorgonzola as Mars can produce, he knows how to write a catchy number. He’s the man behind “Billionaire” and “Nothin’ On You”, for God’s sake, catchy is his middle name. And usually I would slate that. I would call him a sell out and justify it by pointing to his cringeworthy trilby hat collection. But this time, I will admit that catchy can be a good thing.
Who has heard “Treasure” on the radio and questioned their musical chops? Is there a single person in the Western world that hasn’t grooved to “Uptown Funk” at least once? Just what is it about this guy that ropes you in? It can’t be his fashion sense, because half the time he looks like one of those creepy dudes at the club that thinks he’s the shit but is actually just old and weird. And hell, it’s not his ballads because those are the ones I’ll turn down a Wedding Singer job for. I don’t care how much you pay me, I’ll die before I sing “Just The Way You Are” to a church full of weeping 30-somethings. What Mars has got is the ability to rework and reimagine. Like Pharrell and Ronson, he knows that the Golden Age is exactly that, a Gold mine waiting to be harvested.
All you need is a funky baseline and a disco beat to get me dancing. Mars checks those boxes and more, with his soulful voice and use of those sound presets you get on old school keyboards. “Treasure” may not be the most original song in the world, but it works precisely because it makes us remember the good old times. It takes us out of the modern world and back to an era when authentically funky music was played on the radio. It reminds us that pop music can be fun without making us want to shove cotton wool in our ears. “Uptown Funk”, the genius work of Ronson and Mars, brings out the best in Bruno. It’s the perfect example of his boyish charm. Ronson needed some soul with a stellar pop record, and he found it in a 5″11 man with terrible taste in hats.
Mars’ latest album, “24K Magic”, is an album laced with guilty bangers. It’s not often I agree with NME, but they hit the nail on the head when they summed up the album: “Few albums designed to sound like a party actually play like one, but Bruno Mars has pulled it off with style.” Mars told NME, “Those ’90s songs are what I was singing to get the girls in school, the songs that the girls like, what we were dancing to as children.” You’ve got it from the horses’ mouth, he just likes old school music and he’ll no doubt devote his career to bringing it back, for better or worse. Personally, I could do without the Boys II Men pastiche “Versace On The Floor” and the bad-kind-of-90s-R’N’B “Too Good To Say Goodbye”. But the next time “24K Magic” comes on at a student night, I will dance without shame. That song has funkiness in and around it.
Lots of lovin’,
[Picture Source: https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/396035360957838704/]