Bruno Mars is without a doubt a talented artist. His smooth vocals on B.o.B’s smash hit, “Nothin on You” allowed it to go from a feel good track to a Top 40 sensation. He quickly acted on the momentum and released the catchy “Just The Way You Are,” which has landed on the top of the Billboard Top 100. The artist’s light falsetto and catchy songwriting has a star written all over it. So when Bruno finally delivers his first full length offering with Doo Wops & Hooligans, we all can’t help but to be a bit surprised.
Quite frankly, Doo Wops & Hooligans attempts to be everything for everyone. He goes from sounding like a previous Pop sensation, Leona Lewis on “Just The Way You Are” to impersonating Daniel Powter ("Bad Day") on a “Lazy Day.” The album lacks an identity, and with each song, it slips further into crisis. The problems with the project aren’t vocals or production; in fact Bruno Mars has one of the more silky voices to premier in quite a long time. The problem isn’t even songwriting, it’s clear that Bruno will have a long lasting career as a songwriter, if nothing else. The problem begins and ends with the lack of cohesiveness the project contains.
Doo Wops & Hooligans opens up with “Grenade” and “Just The Way You Are,” both purely Pop records. They work and the one would expect “Grenade” to follow in line with “Just The Way You Are’s” radio success. Make no mistake about it, the tracks don’t revolutionize Pop music, and though they have the potential to be hits, it’s partly because of today’s musical climate. From there, Bruno jumps to classic R&B baby making music with “First Time.” The production is on point with a Reggae guitar rift, but the end result comes across more generic than original.
From their album takes a nose dive into genre no-man’s-land. “Runaway Baby” is arguably the best song of the album, but sounds nothing like the others. He showcases his songwriting “Let me think, let me think, what should I do? / So many eager young bunnies that I’d like to pursue / Now even though they’re eating out of the palm of my hand / There's only one carrot and they all gotta share it.” It’s the type of writing that fans expect Bruno to fill an album with, but unfortunately, the moment comes and goes. “Lazy Day” is awful and comes across like a cheesy open mic performance that hopes to get a few laughs. Bruno continues his scattered brain album with the euro sounding “Marry Me.” One song later he rolls out a piano ballad, “Talking To The Moon” which is sung beautifully, but veers out of the contemporary. “Count On Me” takes strongly from Israel Kamakawiwo'ole’s cover of “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” Bruno Mars’s chameleon project makes even the good songs sound less sincere. As he drifts from Jason Mraz karaoke to Amy Winehouse and then makes a stop in Trey Songz area, nothing seems sincere. Is it polished, of course, but beyond that it makes little impact on the listener.
The only other bright spot on the album is “Liquor Store Blues” featuring Damien Marley. The production is dope, and Bruno sounds extremely natural soaring over it. Lyrically, he shines with the hook, “I take one shot for my pain / One drag for my sorrow / Get messed up today / I’ll be okay tomorrow.” The song’s relevance is particularly striking with those facing tough economic times. It’s the one moment where Bruno’s writing seems to transcend beyond himself. Sadly, it’s too little to late.
Doo Wops & Hooligans should have been a shining debut from a talented artist. Unfortunately, it lacks a personal narrative, any sort of direction, and quite frankly a formula that isn’t completely sales based. If we hold to the belief that a debut album is written from birth to the moment it’s released, one would be led to believe that Bruno Mar’s lived but a few moments in his own skin. The years as a go-to songwriter led him away from a sound of his own and closer to a “what’s going to sell” strategy. Sure the album has the opportunity to be successful, chameleons routinely do well, but make no mistake about it, Doo Wops & Hooligans is a debut that Bruno Mars will one day could look back on to regret.