Album Review: 24K Magic

WonkeyDude98
Mini-Description: In my thirty-first album review, I show how Bruno Mars retreating further into his wheelhouse leads to his most frustrating album to date.

Best Songs: "Versace On The Floor", "24K Magic"
Worst Song: "Calling All My Lovelies"

6/10

Bruno Mars.

At this point, do I even need to say anything else? He's a living legend amongst this embarrassingly underwhelming decade. That said, the only reason I probably say that is because of how I react to his stuff from his first two albums. I was probably the only person who liked his debut Doo-Wops and Hooligans as much as I did, for that matter. I really liked The Lazy Song (on the principle that it accomplishes what it was supposed to do: be a very lazy song) and I LOVED Grenade to the point of it being my favorite hit song of 2011. I also really liked some of the album cuts, especially The Other Side, which I still hold in Bruno Mars' top three. Period.

That said...I do realize what made that album so hard to like. Whatever that was, it really harmed him on his sophomore album Unorthodox Jukebox. It was still a very solid album with some fantastic songs that have made my best of 2013 list, but it also had some really terrible ones that showed that Bruno Mars had no idea what he wanted to do with his career going forward.

Then came Mark Ronson. In 2014, he and Bruno Mars concocted Uptown Funk, which is not only one of the best pop songs ever created, it's also one of the best SONGS ever created. An opulent, magnificent song that had lush, gorgeous instrumentation that had a TON of energy to match Bruno's voice and the violently braggadocios nature of the lyrical content. It hasn't gotten old in its nearly three whole years of life, and I highly doubt it ever will get old.

And from there I realized that Bruno Mars knew what he wanted to become: a throwback. Unorthodox Jukebox was a blatant love letter to the early 80s, and Uptown Funk screamed Rick James. But from there, a new problem stemmed in Bruno Mars: a real hollowness at the center. He didn't really do anything with the 80s, more than he did just take it and give it a modern flare. I didn't really care about this in the moment, because making the 80s more modern is about the greatest thing that a pop star can do, but it DID become an issue when I heard his comeback single 24K Magic.

Oh no, the single wasn't the problem itself, because the song rules, it's awesome. But it did make me a bit worried that this album would bring those problems to the forefront. Those fears ended up being overlooked when I heard that the album was indeed going to be a bunch of basically-written modernized 80s throwbacks, but it was only 9 songs long and didn't even reach 40 minutes. So I thought that this album would do exactly what it was supposed to: be a fun little jam session. Was I right?

Well...sorta. This album does do what it has to, but sadly all my concerns about this album were true and then some. I'll still defend the album because it is solid, but in retreating furthest into his comfort zone Bruno Mars ends up making his most frustrating album to date. What I'm trying to say is that it's decent, pretty good at best.

Now, let's start with this album's obvious big strength and that's Bruno himself. His delivery spans all kinds of 80s, from the late-era hip-hop on the title track, the James Brown shrieks on Perm, the Michael Jackson ballad Versace On The Floor, and a lot more that I haven't even pointed out. And Bruno Mars has the swagger, charisma, and range to make all these styles flow together with decent cohesion.

However, cohesion is not a substitute for originality. None of this album whatsoever feels Bruno Mars-y. I once read a comment about Uptown Funk that Bruno has not one original bone in his body, but it wasn't until I listened to this that it became very clear. He's very content with strip-mining these styles without really giving them much beyond that.

Where that's even more apparent -- and stressing -- is the instrumentation and production. This is where Bruno really got his music nerd on and dug deep into his chosen era, picking the best of it and modernizing it. Which shouldn't be a bad thing....except that's all there is to it. He doesn't build on any of these styles really.

Which is frustrating because this album seems like it should work. The sharper sprays of synth, the guzzling key layers, and vocoders on the title track should ensure an adventurous, borderline experimental listen, but we don't get that. We rarely even get actual melodies on this album, just basslines and entourages (which are admittedly universally awesome) carrying aimless tones that fly in and out.

And that's not even to say a lot of them are bad. I like the springy buzzing keys and dopey synth line on Chunky, the fusion of multiple guitar lines, frantic drums, and one-note horns on Perm (that would probably have the best groove on this album if it wasn't for what sounded like a coach's whistle running through the hook), and the blurry synth horns driving That's What I Like are all things that I did enjoy.

However, these three songs only highlight how cheap this album feels. There's no consistent melody lines, there's no live drums except on Perm, the trap snares on songs like That's What I Like feel out-of-place and unnecessary even when you consider the process of modernizations, and a lot of the synth tones feel so brittle and thin that you have to question whether there was even a budget pushing this. It's a big reason why Versace On The Floor is easily the best thing on this album by a mile, because it's a gentle love song driven by a sparkly beat, upright bass, and gorgeous keyboards the whole way through, it's not trying to be flashy or booming, and the somewhat cheap feel of it (especially in what I've been told is a sax solo but I don't buy it, I think it's a keyboard solo) gives it a very modest, down-to-earth, attractive vibe that I can get behind a lot.

Unfortunately, right from there the problems continue to persist in this album's second half, except even worse because even the grooves begin to lose a lot of their tightness, apparent in Straight Up & Down, which tries to be a Boyz II Men song but is too slow and lacks an actual melody in a synth or guitar or piano or ANYTHING. It's at its worst on Calling All My Lovelies, which calls on wiry keys to cover up weak layers of thin glistening synth and some terribly sloppy clipping on the percussion. That said, I actually do really like the new jack swing in the more hollow clicks and waves of synth on what probably actually is the best groove on this album in Finesse. I even like the idea of the power ballad closer Too Good to Say Goodbye with the heavy pianos accompanied by hints of strings. But here's my problem: that song feels so deserved that it ends up being calculated, and thus undeserved. It undercuts a lot of the swagger of this album for no reason.

You wanna know what never had swagger to begin with? The lyrics. Now, I'll freely admit that the 80s were a very cheesy time, and writing was often really messy. That was absolutely not something that needed to be revived because the lyrics on this album are BAD.

It's pretty telling that the #blessed line on the title track is one of the LESS asinine things said on this album. Like the godawful penthouse/pen pun that singlehandedly kills the vibe on Perm, the opening line about how this girl's mother named her "good-looking" because she looks good to him on Straight Up & Down, or how they're both "dripping in finesse" on the titular song and how it "don't make no sense". Not only is the grammar atrocious, there...really isn't finesse to the lyrics, at least if the worst song here Calling All My Lovelies has any say in the matter. With the sour inflections and harmonizations, it makes Bruno talking about how all the "-ishas" are waiting on him because of this girl become a lot more bitter and petulant than this album's tone can remotely back up.

And barring the obvious masterpiece of mellow sex songs that is Versace On The Floor, the writing otherwise just kinda runs together. The flirting and calling for girls with "big ol' hoops" on Chunky and the luxury porn of That's What I Like feel a little flat for me, and the songs I called out for unfunny non-sequiturs don't really offer anything else besides the title track.

It's why Too Good to Say Goodbye feels so jarring and undeserved for me. The details of the breakup aren't there, it's just a regular album closer that gives me no reason to care, even though by itself it is a really great song, if not just musically.

Wow, this review turned out negative, and I don't want it to appear that way. I like a lot of what Bruno tried to do with this album, and it accomplishes its goal as a quick jam session with cool basslines and real swagger and charisma, and I don't dislike anything here beyond select exceptions. But there's nothing innovative or new about modernizing the 80s. Sorry, but MINOR eclecticism can only get you so far. For me it's an extremely light 6/10 and only a recommendation for diehard fans and people who haven't really listened to the 80s. Otherwise...eh, give it a listen or two, but that's about it.

WOW I GOT THREE REVIEWS DONE IN A DAY WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME. Anyways, my next review is going to be extremely special yet extremely complicated so it's probably not gonna come out for another two weeks at least, depending on how active ProPanda is. This is WonkeyDude98, signing out.

Comments

Wooo, this next review... if you love listening to metal and get triggered over different opinions... this next review is not for you. - ProPanda

Definitely not. - WonkeyDude98

Enjoyed the album. Great review. - LightningBlade

So You're Saying I'm The Worst User On The Site? , Pfft...I Bet You Like DylanRob - VideoGamefan5

Who's that?

And I was gonna go off about a bunch of users that are worse than you, but...yeah you're as bad as it gets. - WonkeyDude98

A User Who can't Shut Up About A Serbian Film - VideoGamefan5

You can't shut up about Zootopia. - WonkeyDude98

@WonkeyDude98 Damn dude, you roasted his ass like a turkey - visitor

Dylanrob is a user who makes lists about characters liking _? , - VideoGamefan5

Can't we all just get along? - TristGamer

It was an underwhelming release for me since I did have quite high expectations. And yes, some of the lyrics were kind of garbage. But overall, I enjoyed it. It may not be best of the year material but it is a solid release from a solid musician. But yeah, you're right. We don't need an 80s comeback, we just need something new! - cjWriter1997

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