Though his debut album is only now seeing light this side of the Atlantic (Doo Wops & Hooligans was released stateside in October), fellow Gleeks will by now be well aware of omnipresent Hawaiian pop mercenary Bruno Mars. Doowops’s lead single ‘Just the Way You Are’ and album track ‘Marry You’ were the showcase tunes on the penultimate pre-Christmas episode – one which, predictably, centered around a wedding. This season has also seen performances of Cee-Lo’s ‘Forget You’ (a.k.a. ‘Fuck You’), co-written by Mars, and Travie McCoy’s ‘Billionaire,’ co-written by and featuring chorus vocals from You Know Who. Clearly he’s got somebody’s ear at Fox, but more importantly he’s caught the ear of the dwindling number of people who still actually pay for their music.
It’s worth point out that Mars didn’t arrive at this point by any conventional route. Much like Lady Gaga, he postponed his career in front of the mic to work behind the scenes as a writer and producer, and carefully chose his moment to kick on as a performer. If he appears to have emerged on the pop scene fully formed, it’s because he has – he’s exactly the type of performer record labels are focusing on more and more these days, which goes a long way towards explaining the huge promotional push he’s been given. However all this would be academic had Mars not the songs to back it up the hype – he does, and he has them in spades.
Doo Wops & Hooligans opens with lead single ‘Grenade,’ an elegant and ridiculous classically-tinged ballad of unrequited love and the lengths a man will go to deny what he knows is true. The theme isn’t particularly original, but lyrically it’s as inventive and imaginative as anything to hit the radio this year or last – the words are simple, but the imagery is vivid: “I’d catch a grenade for ya / throw my hand on a blade for ya / I’d jump in front of a train for ya…” ‘Just the Way You Are’ is the inverse: musically sophisticated but the lyrical equivalent of the schmaltziest, airportiest novel Cecilia Ahern has yet to write. ‘Marry You’ carries along the same lines except it’s unambiguously tongue-in-cheek, which sits well with the playful feel of other standouts like ‘The Lazy Song’ and ‘The Other Side’ (which features Cee-Lo and B.o.B.)
It’s no secret that Mars is not the strongest singer on record (a recent live session for BBC’s Live Lounge was littered with flat notes), but he’s characterful, and it’s almost irritating to hear production effects laid on thickly when a few off-notes would arguably have done more for the song. For the most part, though, the songs are well-constructed and easy to digest, sitting comfortably alongside the likes of Maroon 5 and latter-day Jason Mraz, while Irish fans still smarting from The Script’s omission from the Choice shortlist can take solace in the fact that smooth and sexy R&B is here to stay whether the judges like it or not.