In a year when fellow superstars Drake and Kanye West have released sprawling, overlong albums and Beyoncé accompanied hers with a 60-minute film, this record’s brevity feels refreshing. ‘24K Magic’ features just nine songs and a fat-free 33-minute running time. There’s not even a deluxe edition with extra tracks.
Keeping his third album short is also ballsy. After all, Bruno Mars isn’t just trying to match 2010’s ‘Doo-Wops & Hooligans’ and 2012’s ‘Unorthodox Jukebox’ – both multi-platinum chart-toppers – but also globe-conquering Mark Ronson collaboration ‘Uptown Funk’. But instead of pogoing from genre to genre in pursuit of hits, Mars has crafted something compact and cohesive that feels like a proper album.
Although the title track’s exuberant electro-funk apes ‘Uptown Funk’, the album is mainly a tribute to early ’90s R&B. “Those ’90s songs are what I was singing to get the girls in school, the songs that the girls like, what we were dancing to as children,” Mars told NME recently, and his affection for this music is palpable. ‘That’s What I Like’ has Boyz II Men-style finger-snaps; ‘Versace On The Floor’ could soundtrack a prom scene in a ’90s high-school movie; and ‘Finesse’ is a pitch-perfect pastiche of the new jack swing sound that recalls Michael Jackson’s 1992 hit ‘Remember The Time’.
But though ‘24K Magic’ is a total throwback, it’s one that reels you in with slinky finishing touches like the unexpected “straight up” vocal hooks of ‘Straight Up & Down’ and a cute Halle Berry cameo on ‘Calling On My Lovelies’. It’s less easy to justify some of Mars’ lyrics. When he sizes up a woman’s body on ‘Chunky’ (“32-27-42 / Squeeze all of that into my coupé”), he doesn’t sound retro, he just sounds old-fashioned. He’s better off being kitsch than creepy.
“I’ll rent a beach house in Miami / Wake up with no jammies,” he winks playfully on ‘That’s What I Like’. In spite of these misgivings, it’s hard to stay mad at ‘24K Magic’ for long. Few albums designed to sound like a party actually play like one, but Bruno Mars has pulled it off with style.