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Where Chuck Berry was a sly poet, Mars is the master of the single entendre. (Evan Agostini/AP)
Where Chuck Berry was a sly poet, Mars is the master of the single entendre. (Evan Agostini/AP)

DISC OF THE WEEK

A Jukebox of easy-on-the-ears pop Add to ...

  • Title Unorthodox Jukebox
  • Artist Bruno Mars
  • Label Atlantic / Warner
  • Genre pop
  • Rating 3/4

Mimicking, or aping, is not monkey business, but show business. Styling new songs to match previous hits is a long, lucrative pop-music tradition. And speaking of lucrative pop music traditions, we should all get to know Bruno Mars now, if we haven’t already. Kid’s gonna be around for a while

The cover of his new album sports a simian at a vintage jukebox, making his selections one by one. The artwork could represent primitivism, but I don’t think anything on this pop-genre song parade is anything too deep. The Hawaiian hit-maker is having cashbox fun with the fashions he fancies – mostly updated eighties, with doo-wop, bass-popping disco, earnestly trembling R&B and Maroon 5-type pop tossed in for good measure.

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And yes, the measure is very good indeed. The tunes pop brilliantly into your ears, with production that is polished and arrangements that are dandy and modern. Lyrics are base though – a big disappointment. Where the Little Queenie composer Chuck Berry was a sly poet, Mars is the master of the single entendre.

So, first track Young Girls is pretty much as advertised on the tin. Listen to the keening Mars: “I spent all my money on a big old fancy car / for these bright-eyed honies – oh, yeah, you know who you are.” Tom-toms beat and background singers croon doo-woppy. The chorus, about the “young wild girls” who make a mess of the presentable Mars, soars high – to the upper decks, and to the girls in the front row who are, we hope, more than a minute over 17.

It is unreasonable to believe that Mars spent all his money on a “big old fancy car,” not that he would not have a Thunderbird in his driveway. His 2010 debut Doo-Wops & Hooligans was a smash hit. He helps pen hook-laden singles for others, including Cee-Lo Green’s F-bombed delight. He’s telegenic, neat on his feet and so young-Robbie-Alomar-adorable that he must be beating them off with a baseball bat.

He’s a star with cash to spare, I mean to say.

But what does Mars (with his songwriting-production posse the Smeezingtons and ace producers including Jeff Bhasker, Mark Ronson and Diplo) have to say? Not much – this sleek stuff is crafted, not personal. We know of Mars, but we don’t know him.

He’s pretty good at singing about heartbreak. When I Was Your Man is a wistful piano ballad, using chunky Elton John chords. And, yes, it's sad, so sad – a sad, sad situation that is sensitively recounted.

Other jukebox darlings includes the Romantics (or the Police) on Locked Out of Heaven. The guitars chop buoyantly in the verse, with nifty vocal ticks that trick up a tune about seeking paradise, perhaps by the dashboard light. The chorus is one of those big tension-releasing flights that seem pretty routine by this point.

Moonshine intoxicates the ladies. We have a little Michael Jackson, and (if I may date myself) a little Don Johnson Heartbeat and some Foreigner-style big balladry, too. “Moonshine, take us to the stars tonight,” Mars oozes smoothly, “Take us to that special place, that place we went the last time, the last time.” We’ve all been there, to that special place. It’s nice to go back there.

Speaking of trips, off we go to the islands for Show Me. Steel drums, air horns and a lovely breeze. “Room, room, room” rhymes with “boom, boom, boom” and “zoom, zoom, zoom.” Nothing lost in translation here.

It’s a nifty package, Unorthodox Jukebox, though I’m not quite sure what exactly is so unorthodox. Ten tracks, all built to be hits, with varying inflections and grooves. Three plays for a dollar – let’s go to town.

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