Bruno Mars ‘Unorthodox Jukebox' (Atlantic)
Bruno Mars seems so puppy-dog-eager to please and prove his stylistic flexibility on his second album, “Unorthodox Jukebox,” that he comes off as a pallid pretender and cut-rate parodist. That clunky album title apparently refers to the dog's breakfast of disparate styles and simulations represented within, but instead of proving his facility, Mars sounds unfocused on “Jukebox,” trying on hats rather than fully investing in anything.
A passable Sting impression can be profitable — just ask Gotye — but the Police-impersonating rhythms and high keening vocals of “Locked Out of Heaven” get grounded by lyrical howlers such as “Your sex takes me to paradise.” Mars delivers an ugly fantasia about cocaine and animal urges (“Gorilla”) to turgid hair-metal posturing that would embarrass Bon Jovi, affects a Bradley Nowell-style fake patois for the distinctly non-Subliminal “Show Me,” tries on Jacko's glove for the “Dirty Diana”-ish “Natalie,” and takes a stumbling spin on the dance floor with the Maroon 5-lite fake disco anthem “Treasure.” “Unorthodox Jukebox”? It's more like “Now! That's What Bruno Mars Calls Music.”
Three years after the fact, it makes sense that Mars would cop a title from Billy Joel for his breakout single, “Just the Way You Are.” “Unorthodox Jukebox” comes on like Joel's own musical costume party, 1983's “An Innocent Man,” a collection of pastiches of favorites from the piano man's doo-wop-fueled youth. But unlike “An Innocent Man,” “Unorthodox Jukebox” has no governing theme other than a thin vein of misogyny running throughout. Mars has a degree of talent, but “Unorthodox Jukebox” reveals an acute lack of judgment on how to deploy it.
— George Lang