Ever since the decline and then the passing of Michael Jackson, the title for biggest male pop star has been up for grabs. Justin Timberlake was up for it at one point, but has lately decided he's not interested in making music. Usher was too, but his high points are too sporadic.
A new contender emerged on the scene this year, Hawaii pop singer/songwriter Bruno Mars. Mars came to prominence as a songwriter on hits like Sugababes' "Get Sexy" and Flo Rida's "Right Round" before stepping up as guest vocalist earlier this year on the hits "Nothin' on You" by B.o.B. and "Billionaire" by Travie Mars. Finally his solo debut emerged this month, capitalizing on his growing popularity while delivering a set of consistent pop songcraft.
"Grenade" doesn't waste any time, diving into the album with a big sound--minor keyed synths, a piano refrain, and sharp beats. International #1 hit "Just the Way You Are" remains as irresistible now as it did when you first heard it months ago. It's hopeful sound matches perfectly with Mars' slightly rough but completely sincere vocal delivery ("when I see your face, there's not a thing that I would change, 'cause you're amazing just the way you are"). How many advertisements will this song be used on? My guess is we're going to be hearing this one for years. "Marry You" is another heart-on-his-sleeve romantic number, but its charged tempo and party vibe--complete with "shots of Patron"--makes it more fun than if it was a sappy ballad.
"Our First Time" slinks in on a slightly Caribbean vibe of late night quiet storm R&B. Mars' tenor vocal recalls Michael Jackson's frequent ballad style, and he sounds as confident on this gentler material as he does belting out "Just the Way You Are." The more reggae-inspired songs, "The Lazy Song" and "Liquor Store Blues" (feat. Damian Marley) aren't as strong and are the only tracks on the album I don't really care for.
"Runaway Baby," an obvious choice for a future single, takes yet another turn toward soulful up-tempo rock--think Maroon 5 or Smash Mouth. "Talking to the Moon" is an admittedly strange lyric, but I actually like this song. It's the album's slowest, a lovelorn piano ballad that finds Mars pining for some girl who's far away.
The album closes on a particularly strong note with "The Other Side," a funky, high-energy, retro soul track that features Mars collaborators B.o.B. and Cee Lo Green (Mars co-wrote and co-produced "Fuck You").
If it weren't for the few reggae-inspired tracks that I don't care for, I'd have given this a 4.5, as I really like most of the other songs a lot. At just 10 tracks, Doo-Wops and Hooligans feels lean and mean. As I always say, I'd rather have a tight album of high points than a longer one with filler. With his debut, Mars firmly solidifies his pop music cred and raises expectations as one to watch in the coming years.
Best: Just the Way You Are, Grenade, Runaway Baby, The Other Side, Our First Time, Talking to the Moon