Does Bruno Mars really love you just the way you are? That’s what he promised on 2010’s smash Doo-Wops + Hooligans, a glorious slab of fedora-wearing, marriage-proposing, catch-a-grenade-for-ya chivalry. But outside the studio his image wasn’t so gentlemanly: When he got busted for cocaine possession that same year, he told GQ, ”I’m not gonna preach that I’m a role model. I’m a f—ing musician!”
That mantra defines his excellent Unorthodox Jukebox, which feels much truer to life for a 27-year-old millionaire who vacations in Vegas. Now he’s free to brag about his ”cocaine ticker” (on the sexy-funny ”Gorilla”) and write a strip-club-directed banger (”Money Make Her Smile”). He’s dropped the golden-boy bit, but at least he’s being honest. And his talent for crafting little pop perfections of all stripes is undeniable: The ’60s-soul romance ”If I Knew” smolders like a Solomon Burke track, and he dips easily into both Police-style reggae-rock (”Locked Out of Heaven”) and dancehall with tape-echo effects and air horns in all the right places (”Show Me”). ”Treasure” even makes silk-jumpsuit disco feel contemporary.
Old-school charm still gets Mars the furthest, and the best thing here is the classic torch song ”When I Was Your Man,” which finds him at the piano listing all the ways he wronged an ex. ”Caused a good, strong woman like you to walk out my life,” he cries in his Sinatra-smooth tenor, oozing charm. Maybe he’s a jerk. But he’s the jerk that girl’s going home with tonight. A-