Bruno Mars Sucks, But Needn't

Bruno Mars Sucks, But Needn't

Bruno Mars once said he thought Amy Winehouse was great and that he was jealous of her work. I think he was (and is) right, because she was great. And his jealousy is warranted. What he said exactly:

“I felt like everything I’ve been saying, everything I wanted to do, she did it. It was one of those things like, ‘Damn it! Damn it!’ It was perfect.”

Bruno believes Amy beat him to conceptualizing the sounds heard on his LP Unorthodox Jukebox way back in 2007; that from the get-go his gambit to have multi-genre appeal had already been superseded by a force his better. Back to Black still cannot, as Mars put aptly, be “put it in a box” and therefore stands credibly. His works on the other hand look to have been shoe-horned into generic market streams. He doesn’t make bad songs, no. They’re competently written but useless to discriminating music lovers - the kind of enthusiasts you must try hard to win over when taking a punt with category-bending music. Bruno is instead in deep with droves of enamoured women who, he probably thinks, are missing the proverbial forest for the cutesy semi-afro’d trees. I don’t know if there’s a way out of that, mate.

To consider commercial radio stations in Melbourne, Australia, is to consider that Bruno is effectively pigeon-holed with the likes of P!nk and Katy Perry in terms of commercial appeal. This has been the case for quite a while. You’ll absolutely never hear any of his breakthrough hits, like ‘Grenade’ or ‘Just The Way You Are’ on any other stations than Nova or Fox FM. Why? Stations with semi-prejudiced content like triple j have no need for his moderate work while groups like Outkast, Modest Mouse and Gorillaz exist. Heck, even the ballyhooed Arcade Fire are better genre-benders with or without their silly masks.

So Bruno considers himself inferior to Amy Winehouse (probably to save face) though still carries some kind of pretention or duty to produce intense variety within his music. He may dabble superficially with the codes and conventions of a given genre to realize this duty, and his dabblings may sound great and may bring comfort, but he’s merely skirting across a large musical spectrum without settling on a creed. Like marmalade spread too thinly across metres of multi-grain toast, Mars gives a little but never his all. Take this recently dropped single, ‘Treasure’:

There is nothing original about this intentionally-kitschy-tongue-in-cheek disco throwback number. Sure, it satisfies the requirements of disco: Slapped bass riffs accent the rundown in the track’s looping chord progression, a tidily produced kick-snare combo fills the dance space, and loose-wristed guitar wick-wacks keep everything at pace. Mars, ever playing his role of the enabler, likens a beautiful woman to priceless booty. He’s only re-ticked decade-old boxes, though. That is where his issues lay. The video itself is heavily cast in glitzy 70s filters and comes across as a hollow cultural index. We know the era Mars is referencing as soon as we see it; we know it because guys like Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire helmed it firsthand and they had genuine panache in doing so. The entire song isn’t about a ‘treasure’ Bruno Mars himself knows, it’s about his desire to neatly repurpose a sound any big-wig producer worth their salt could recreate in a day.

Take Bruno out and chuck in Robin Thicke, for instance, and does the integrity of the song change? No, not at all. Bruno is not the central staple in his own work. He’s superfluous to a focus that he refuses to tighten.

‘Locked Out Of Heaven’, despite sounding a little bit like a Foster The People tune, represents the direction Bruno should take if he wants a damn near scholarly musical reach as his selling point. He’s a great entertainer and might have the skill to generate enviable music but right now he’s stagnating as a half-ironic pretty boy. Not in the same league as Winehouse, I submit.

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