SBox Recommends: 24k Magic by Bruno Mars (Album Review)

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If you’re even slightly familiar with modern day Pop/R&B music, then there’s no way you haven’t heard of the name Bruno Mars. He’s one of the industry’s most well-known, beloved, and respected figures, and for good reason. Ever since he first arrived to the industry in 2004 (well before people knew his name), Mars has contributed greatly to the music industry as not only a singer, but also a songwriter and producer. He’s been responsible for countless hits, collaborated with several major stars, and launched three successful studio albums so far; the latest of which was just released half a year ago from now.

I’ve been wanting to talk about 24k Magic ever since I first heard it back in January. It’s also been about a year since my last album review, so rather than wait another 6 months for the first anniversary, let’s talk about it now.

For those who haven’t seen my previous album reviews, I’ll basically go through each of tracks one at a time, giving a brief description, trivia, and my thoughts on each before giving my final verdict on the album as a whole.

Background

I like to start each album review with some minor background on the artist and the album before diving in. In this case, I’d like to dedicate this time to discuss a question some may have had when the album first dropped in November. How can this only be his third ever album? Most importantly, how has it been 4 years since the last album? It’s not like he’s been missing for that long, right?

Basically, the reason we’ve continued to see Bruno Mars despite a 4 year break is because he’s been doing what he’s always done, even before we officially knew his name: collaborating.

While most of us would point to 2010 as the first time we saw Bruno Mars, Bruno actually entered the industry in 2004 as a songwriter and producer. You didn’t know it at the time, but he’s always been around contributing hits from the likes of Flo Rida (“Right Round”), Cee Lo Green (“Forget You”), and many more. It wasn’t until Mars formed the production/songwriting group The Smeezingtons, alongside Phillip Lawrence and Ari Levine that Mars started coming to the forefront of his songs as a singer. Many first heard his voice in B.o.B’s “Nothin’ on You” and Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire”, which first graced airways in 2010 alongside his first studio album, Doo-Wop and Hooligans.

Since then, Bruno enjoyed a sudden rise to fame, creating a second album, Unorthodox Jukebox, in 2012, and lending his voice to several songs outside his own albums, such as “Lighters” (Bad Meets Evil), “Young, Wild & Free” (Snoop Dogg), “It Will Rain” (Twilight soundtrack), and “Uptown Funk” (Mark Ronson).

In short, most of what Mars has done in the past 4 years wasn’t primarily his, which is why it’s been so long since we’ve had a proper album from him. And it’s that unnoticed fact that makes 24k Magic so fascinating, because for the first time in a long time, we can see what an unfettered Mars is still capable of doing on his own.

Track Listing

24k Magic consists of 9 songs, clocking in at about 33 minutes long. All production work was handled by Shampoo Press & Curl, alongside The Stereotypes, Emile Haynie, and Jeff Bhasker. Shampoo Press & Curl is a reformed version of The Smeezingtons (with Christopher Brody Brown replacing Ari Levine) who produced and wrote every track on the album. Other notable songwriters include James Fauntleroy, The Stereotypes, Shai, T-Pain, and Babyface among others. As of May 2017, this album has 2 commercial singles (with music video) and 1 promotional single.

If you’d like to follow along, here’s the full album.

“24k Magic”

We, of course, start with the title track for the album, and the one song you’ve all heard by now. If not, it’s very likely that you lack ears… or technology… it may also be possible that your dimension currently doesn’t have this song, in which case this album doesn’t exist and therefore this review doesn’t exist either. Perhaps, none of us really exist… Ignore me, I’m weird.

Establishing the mood of the album right away, you’ll notice that this song has a very similar feel to “Uptown Funk”, which is no accident. It has the same feel, style, and sound, down to the dance-oriented beat and Mars’ minimalistic singing (you know, the kind where he’s basically speaking the lyrics). It also gave me a similar reaction as “Uptown Funk” where I didn’t really like it at first, but it grew on me over time. In fact, in many ways I like it better than “Uptown Funk”. It’s very 80s funk meets modern R&B. The song’s catchy as hell, too, and I know it’ll have a permanent home at clubs, proms, and parties for years to come. It’s not my favorite song on the album, but still pretty good.

Fun Fact: Some may be wondering what’s the meaning behind the name “24k Magic”. Basically, the name refers to millesimal fineness, a system which measures the purity or amount of gold in an alloy by karats. An alloy of 24 karats is the purest gold possible. So, 24 is the “magic” number for gold. There you go: 24k Magic.

“Chunky”

A very fitting transition from “24k Magic”, “Chunky” is a synth-based party song about the kind of woman Mars is looking for. He mentions a girl who’s independent, likes to party, is self-sufficient, and (as the title suggests), has a little weight to her. The song also has an almost conversational format as sometimes a female voice (Lisenny, I think) responds to Mars.

I like this song. It’s funny how I kinda forgot it existed the first time around and now I’m all over it. It has that quality about it that makes my head bop from side to side. With its relaxed beat, great electronic piano riff, and Michael Jackson-esque kick, “Chunky” is an excellent, up-beat track worth listening to.

Fun Fact: This song was co-written by James Fauntleroy, who also penned “No Air” by Jordin Sparks and “Take Back the Night” by Justin Timberlake. Fauntleroy helped write all but two songs on the album (the first and the last).

“Perm”

Time to speed up that tempo for a fast-paced, uppity, party anthem. Beginning with a spoken section by someone who isn’t Mars (possibly Phillip Lawrence), this song is basically about Mars dancing with a girl he just met, presumably at a party. As he calls her to the dance floor, he tells her to “throw some perm on your attitude”. In other words, relax and be sexy.

This song isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but that’s just me. I do appreciate the instrumentation of the song — the horns and whistles make it sound almost like a marching band going down the street — and I find it one of the more lyrically clever songs on the album. It’s far from bad, but also far from my favorite track personally.

Fun Fact: In the first verse, Mars tells the girl “put [her] phone down, let’s get it. Forget your Instagram and your Twitter”. Mars is known to hold this same sentiment during his shows. He explains, “seeing the reaction… that’s the art! That is the art – to feel the room… But the phone thing created this wall where I’m going, ‘Man, I can’t see no faces. I don’t know if you’re smiling, and you can’t dance because you’re worried about the shot so you’re not moving.'”

“That’s What I Like”

Moving on to single #2, the other song everyone’s heard by now. If not, it’s possible you live under a rock… or in the woods… It’s quite possible that you just arrived from the distant past where the radio has yet to be invented. Maybe you’re here to stop the radio from being invented. Maybe you’re trying to stop me from being invented. Is that your goal? Huh? It’s my bad jokes, isn’t it?… Sorry, still weird.

Okay, so it’s a song about Mars courting a girl by showing her what he has to offer and what he likes. Nothing really fancy and far from cryptic, but man is this song good. I always kinda liked it, but it was around the time it first hit the radio that I started really digging it. I prefer it over the other single “24k Magic”, and am glad to see it getting so much recognition now. May not have been my first choice for a single, but it’s still a worthy standout deserving of being one.

Fun Fact: Mars performed this song at the 2017 Grammy Awards, the same show where he performed his tribute to Prince.

“Versace on the Floor”

Now for one of my favorite songs on the album and the main reason I sought this album out. For those styleless peasants such as myself who don’t know, Gianni Versace is a famous Italian fashion designer of luxurious clothing. So, in case your first guess was that Versace was a sex position of sorts, now you know. Same principle really.

Mars always had a way with ballads, and this is no exception. What I like about this one specifically is its blatantly 90s touch which makes it sound just like a MJ song. In fact, try playing a few songs from Bad and then play this song. Doesn’t it seem like a perfect fit next to, say, “Man in the Mirror”? This is an amazing track which has no business being merely a promotional single. I say give this a full and proper release with a video and everything. It’s one of my two favorite tracks from the album, and I highly recommend it.

Fun Fact: Mars made 6 versions of this song before arriving at the final version. He originally gave it a poolside “piña colada” feel with different lyrics and assumedly a spoken vocal performance. Eventually, the song was reworked into a Boyz II Men style ballad with different lyrics and a traditional singing style.

“Straight Up and Down”

And from our slow MJ-like ballad we pick things up just slightly with “Straight Up & Down”. It’s definitely a song about sex, but depending on your personal interpretation this is either about a girl’s twerking butt going straight up and down or… Never mind. Let’s just go with the ass thing.

This is another really good track and I feel it’s one of the more tragically ignored songs on the album. Maybe that’ll change if and when it becomes a single (I’d definitely like to see that), but there’s a ton to like about this song’s near-mamba beat, vocals (especially in the chorus), and instrumentation. My favorite part is towards the end when the song is stripped down and in place of the bass is snapping. It just sounds great. Definitely one of my favorites.

Fun Fact: The song was co-written by the band Shai whose 1993 hit “Baby I’m Yours” is sampled on this track. It was also co-written by T-Pain, who can be heard during the chorus’ backing vocals.

“Calling All My Lovelies”

Another really good track made all the better by one thing: the lyrics. This is definitely the most lyrically clever track, because it’s so damn funny. How can one hear the phrase “All the Ishas waiting on me” (in context, of course) without cracking a smile. If you can, you have no sense of humor… or soul… It’s possible you’re a demon who thrives on the sound of human misery. In which case, this song is definitely not for you. May I instead recommend the song “Barbie Girl”? (Last joke, I promise).

I think it’s also the concept of it that’s so funny. After a girl Mars is interested in isn’t answering his phone calls, he tells himself (or her through her voicemail) not to neglect him, because he has several other girls on speed dial. However, he doesn’t want to go there, because she’s clearly the one he wants to be with. So he keeps calling and calling hoping for a response. This also makes this song the most unique on the album. It’s not entirely about partying or sex, and the sound of a phone calling gives us nice musical variety. Speaking of which, the 90s is certainly strong with this song, and it sounds great. The beat has this cool, high-octave, simple riff around it that adds a lot of character and atmosphere to the song.

If this isn’t my favorite track on the album, it comes extremely close to being there. In fact, one day it just may become my favorite. For now, I can say that this is a fantastic standout track that you should definitely listen to.

Fun Fact: In case you’re wondering, yes. That is the real Halle Berry featuring in this song. Life is great sometimes!

“Finesse”

This song is conceptually similar to “Perm”, talking about how awesome it feels to bring his girl to the dance floor. He mentions how the whole room turns, how he loves her measurements, and how the two are “Drippin’ in finesse”, which I assume means that they pull off their look and style with ease. Then again, the next line says “It don’t make no sense”, so I’m probably looking way too into it.

Like “Chunky” this is a song I didn’t appreciate when I first heard it. Now that I’m hearing it again, though, I’m really into it. Strangely, its fast-paced tempo and use of synth kinda reminds me of N’SYNC or Backstreet Boys. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true. In any case, I definitely enjoy this song; maybe not as much as the others, but still.

Fun Fact: The final track is actually one of 24 different versions of the same song. (How ironic). Mars likened one version to a “70s cop show — like I should be on roller skates” and another as just too corny.

“Too Good to Say Goodbye”

Finally, we reach our album closer, and boy is it a real treat. This is the second ballad on the track and was apparently a song Mars had been working on for years (and it shows). Here, the title says it all. It’s just a good, old-fashioned make-up song akin to the likes of Boyz II Men and Whitney Houston, and it’s up there with “Versace on the Floor” as one of my favorite songs from this album.

Like I said, Mars may do great party anthems, but I think ballads are where he really shines. Here more than ever you can hear and make out the instruments being used. You can clearly hear the piano, the drums, the horns, the bass. It’s not distorted or electronic. It just feels pure and simple, which is exactly what it is. I’m a huge sucker for that kind of thing, too, so this song is right up my alley and no doubt yours. This more than any other track on the album is one I’m waiting to become a single, because it’s just fantastic. So old-school, soulful, and oddly triumphant. Give this a listen if you haven’t already.

Fun Fact: This song was written alongside Kenneth “Babyface” Edwards, one of Mars’ personal heroes and R&B legend known for his solo work as well as collaborations with Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, Jay-Z, and Ariana Grande among others.

Overall

I’m really glad I heard this album, because 24k Magic is a truly golden work all around. (Pun slightly intended). This album was truly worth the wait it took to bring us here, because while the album is notably short, it’s just one quality song after the other with no lag. Even the one song I personally didn’t like isn’t bad in the slightest and still contributes the album’s main theme. It flows consistently with no jarring transitions, and it never once betrays its musical style, making for a unified experience. Sure it’s nothing deep, but it doesn’t have to be. Bruno Mars is definitely back, and I hope a successor isn’t too far away. It has a lot to live up to.

Verdict: 9.3/10

Recommendations

Any Bruno Mars fan, even the most passive listeners of his music, should seek this album out. Whether you like his ballads like “Just the Way You Are”, his more up-beat songs “Marry You” or his party anthems “Uptown Funk”, will be right at home with at least some of this album. Those who have a fondness for old-school R&B or an appreciation of 80s or 90s music will find a ton to enjoy here. If you don’t like Bruno Mars’ music, it’s still worth a try, but try a sampling on YouTube before committing a half-hour. Likewise, those who can’t stand “24k Magic” or “That’s What I Like” may want to skip this album.


Check out my other album reviews if you liked this one: Queen’s Innuendo and Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP.

I’m SBox180. Thanks for reading!

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