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-Best Tracks:
Soulful reggae-rock Locked Out of Heaven
Bad Bruno's mea culpa When I Was Your Man