herald

Sunday 22 October 2017

Copycat Bruno proves he's no small wonder

Bruno Mars
Unorthodox Jukebox
(Atlantic)

Wildly impressed by the innovative pop output of Stevie Wonder years ago, Paul McCartney inelegantly claimed that "he shits music."

Stevie was on a roll at the time, creating pop-soul albums that helped reshape the musical landscape. He could dominate the charts with a soppy ballad as easily as an irresistible slab of synth-funk.

Then along came Prince and Michael Jackson, the twin towers of the new groove.

It's worth considering these titans when appraising the bright new paint job offered by Hawaii's 27-year-old pop whizz kid Peter Hernandez.

As Bruno Mars, Hernandez proved the lessons he learned from studying Elvis Presley performances weren't wasted. By the time he released his debut album, Doo-Wops & Hooligans, in 2010, Mars had already written and produced a string of hits for other artists including Sugababes and Alexandra Burke.

While nothing has yet surpassed the exuberance of Cee-Lo Green's Forget You (aka F**k You), Mars' debut album became a worldwide multi-million seller.

The lad can churn out hits. But the hope was that Bruno would, like Stevie Wonder in the 1970s and Prince in the 1980s, take things to a new level of excellence.



DISPOSABLE



Those expectations are shattered by the 10 tracks on Unorthodox Jukebox, a collection of tidy pop productions that borrow shamelessly from a range of artists as diverse as Michael Jackson, The Police and Kool and the Gang.

Each track is neat and catchy but damningly derivative. When Treasure comes on in the pub, we'll all begin nodding like a dashboard dog in a Hillman Avenger.

And that's because, subconsciously, we'll assume it's a recently rediscovered follow-up to Kool's Ladies' Night.

Mars apes Michael Jackson's bruised angst on Natalie, a clipped disposable retro-pop jingle, and then ladles on the synth-drum reggae sunshine in Show Me, a track that would make UB40 run for the hills.

The BBC will probably tell Bruno that his commercial radar was malfunctioning when he decided to open the album with the thuddy ode Young Girls. "Young wild girls...I'm addicted."

Easy there, pop-pickers ...

HHHII

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