Bruno Mars’ ‘Unorthodox Jukebox’: The Reviews Are In

'snl': bruno mars
The singer was on double duty for the late-night show.
BRUNO MARS AS ELVIS
The pop star was once the world's youngest Elvis impersonator.
Bruno Mars is back to prove he’s still a jack of all musical trades.

From classic pop powerhouses to hip-hop-tinged tunes and tear-jerking piano ballads, the multi-talented Grammy winner bends genres in his highly anticipated sophomore album Unorthodox Jukebox, which hit shelves on Dec. 11.

“[I was] not thinking about business or radio or politics, just doing what I love to do — and that’s creating music,” Mars said in a recent interview, according to The Washington Post. “Whether it be a reggae song, rock song, a love song, the main thing was just to, whatever I was feeling, to try to capture that emotion.”

Following in the well-praised footsteps of his platinum-plus debut album, Doo-Wops & Hooligans, Mars knew he had a high standard to meet. “I feel like you have to constantly keep proving yourself, and you have to constantly keep getting out there and showing them you’re more than just that one song on the radio that’s just playing,” he explained. “And that’s what I had to do the first time around — I had to keep going out there and keep performing live.”

So is Mars’ Unorthodox old-school sound garnering raves from the reviewers? Read on for a sampling of what the critics are saying about Mars’ sophomore set.

Paste: “For all its ultra-catchy eclecticism, Unorthodox Jukebox really isn’t all that unorthodox — and when Mars plays it safe, he steps sideways: ‘Young Girls’ is a by-numbers ‘shout-out-to-the-honeys’ belter, and ‘Show Me’ is an undercooked foray into dance-hall reggae…. Mars still plays the sweetheart card well, but he’s proven himself way more interesting as a badass.”

MTV: “Jukebox is a very good album indeed, a classically inspired pop release that not only pays homage to the greats (Michael Jackson, Prince and Sam Cooke spring to mind), but also makes a play to be mentioned in the same breath as them. It is not overly concerned with being cool, or contemporary, ditching the radio-pleasing immediacy of Mars’ previous hits to showcase his strengths: a lithe voice, an unerring musical sensibility, and a knack for penning choruses that not only latch onto the ear, but burrow deep inside of it.”

Idolator: “Similar to other recent efforts by male pop/R&B artists, Unorthodox Jukebox takes listeners on a journey of the initial hookup followed by the honeymoon period and on to the fights and the man’s frustration that follows. Even though we’ve heard these stories before, Mars’ ability to become a chameleon and truly commit to so many sounds and genres makes this album stand out from the rest of the party-sex-fight fare.”

Washington Post: “Unorthodox Jukebox, his impeccably made and compulsively listenable sophomore release, is not your mother’s Bruno Mars album…. It’s thematically darker than the breezy Hooligans, but musically it hews close to the formula established by its predecessor.”

NY Daily News: “If anything, the new Unorthodox Jukebox CD clarifies Mars’ chosen role. He’s a guy who sounds most comfortable, and uncompromising, playing to the whole family. To perfect that goal, Mars seems to have chosen a daunting role model for the album — none other than Michael Jackson…. That Mars can leap so easily from classic pop crooning to the hip-hop tricks of ‘Money Make Her Smile,’ shows his versatility, his charm and, in the end, his ability to make pop mainstreaming seem like a noble mission.”

Seattle Times: “The versatile singer-songwriter and producer blends R&B, reggae, rock, soul, pop and hip-hop, reflecting a musical childhood in Hawaii where exposure to different styles of music was the norm (as a small boy he performed with his parents’ band, doing a pint-size impersonation of Elvis Presley).”

Hit Fix: “Musically, Unorthodox Jukebox is a glorious exploration of pop music, full of spritely melodies, layered harmonies, and catchy choruses delivered in Mars’ caramel-dipped voice. It’s lyrically that the album occasionally falls short…. Mars’ pop music is so far above much of what’s played on the radio these days so these quibbles come because it’s clear he can do better. Once his lyrics reach the level of his music—and he gets over his bad girl fixation— there will be truly no stopping him.”

USA Today: “There’s nothing wrong with being primarily a stylist, especially when your material is irresistible and your delivery is so engaging. Mars is just 27; the personal heartbreak and hard-won lessons likely will seep into his work eventually. For now, he’ll just keep dialing up the feel-good hits.”

Rolling Stone: “Bruno Mars doesn’t do low stakes. He is a drama king, a man who thrives on grand statements, soap-opera plotlines and actual-opera melodrama…. From another performer, the bombast might be a deal-breaker, but from Mars – a master song-crafter and a nimble, soulful vocalist – it is the stuff of great pop.”

Vancouver Sun: “Who is this guy? Is he a guy who reminds you of other guys? When you spend your pre-star days riffing on convincing impersonations of both Elvis and Michael Jackson, you’re either about to have an impressively galactic career, or an impressively generic one…. He’s no Martian — he’s from Planet Teflon, sticking to no genre as none sticks to him. He’s a timely reminder of the current pop personality graph: you can at once be everywhere and nobody.”

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