Doo-Wops & Hooligans (Deluxe)
The early 2010s were a time when the veils between genres—pop, R&B, rock, dance music, even reggae—were delightfully thin. Coldplay teamed up with Rihanna, who in turn collaborated with Britney Spears (and Slash, too). Meanwhile, Maroon 5 embraced electro-pop and Adele carried the torch for timeless soul. But perhaps no star embodied the zeitgeist more thoroughly—or audaciously—than Bruno Mars, whose 2010 debut, Doo-Wops & Hooligans, became a breakout hit thanks to a panoramic sound that, if it doesn’t encompass every genre under the sun, surely sounds like it. Despite the hook-filled Doo-Wops & Hooligans representing his first stab at recording a full-length album, Mars was no novice when it came to busting down walls between genres. The versatile child-entertainer-turned-in-demand-songwriter had already racked up composer credits for artists as diverse as Brandy, Natasha Bedingfield, and Cobra Starship before he and his production team, The Smeezingtons, started constructing the ambitious album, including a lead single, “Just the Way You Are,” that alone took months to hone. All the hard work paid off. The song’s effortless blend of puppy-love innocence, funky syncopation, and a Coldplay-style chorus helped it become one of the biggest hits of 2010, eventually netting Mars a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. Both “Talking to the Moon” and “Marry You” reach similarly soaring heights, showing Mars’ facility as a straight-ahead rocker with an ear for melody. But as the delicious slice of lovers rock “Our First Time” and the soul-folk gem “The Other Side” demonstrate, he's far too curious musically to stick to a single genre, a quality that would steer his subsequent solo releases as well as his work with Silk Sonic, his lush and dreamy supergroup with Anderson .Paak. Mars’ nostalgic streak—the Hawaii native grew up playing oldies, after all—is yet another key flavor in Doo-Wops & Hooligans. But instead of taking center stage, as it would on 2012’s Unorthodox Jukebox (an album that unfolds like a turbo-charged crash course in pop-music appreciation 101), Mars deploys his love of vintage sounds strategically. There’s the old-school R&B swing fueling “Runaway Baby” and the Beatles-esque melody threaded through the romantic ditty “Count on Me.” Moreover, his voice consistently reveals inflections learned from spinning Thriller over and over. Ultimately, though, Mars isn’t time traveling on Doo-Wops & Hooligans so much as scattering Easter eggs to let listeners know his knowledge of music history is deep and wide.