Doo-Wops & Hooligans
Hawaiian-born Peter Gene Hernandez had a breakout year in 2010. Better known as Bruno Mars, the 25-year-old with the silkiest tenor the music pop/R&B world has heard in quite some time was impossible to avoid on pop radio. First came big-splash collaborations with B.o.B. ("Nothin' on You") and Travie McCoy ("Billionaire"), songs he co-wrote and sang on. Then came his debut album, from which sprang "Just the Way You Are" and "Grenade." And as 2010 gave way to 2011, Mars' efforts were rewarded with a whopping seven Grammy nominations, including a nod to his work as a co-writer and producer for 2010's most controversial song, Cee Lo Green's "F**k You."
That tune's certainly a hooligan. "Just the Way You Are" is straight-up doo-wop. What's the balance Bruno strikes on the rest of his songs?
"Count on Me" majors on loyalty and dependability, with Mars promising he'll go to great lengths to help a friend in need. "If you ever find yourself stuck in the middle of the sea," he sings, "I'll sail the world to find you." On "Just the Way You Are," he wants the object of his affection to know that he thinks she's beautiful, no matter what she thinks she looks like. "Grenade," in contrast, finds the singer on the other end of the romantic spectrum, lamenting that the woman he would have given his life for turned out to be a cunning deceiver. "Talking to the Moon" lurks in similarly melancholy territory, as Bruno tells the moon and stars about his broken heart … and hopes, somehow, that the one who broke it might hear him ("At night when the stars light up my room/I sit by myself/Talking to the moon/Tryin' to get to you/In hopes you're on the other side").
Give "Runaway Baby" credit for its honesty as Bruno advises potentially interested ladies that he's actually "a wolf in sheep's clothing" and that the only wise response to his seductive ways is to get away as soon and as far as possible: "To every girl that I meet here, this is what I say/Run, run, run away, run away baby."
"Our First Time" is not, as you might have guessed from the suggestive title, about a couple's first cup of coffee. Instead, it's about Mars trying to convince someone he doesn't seem to have known long ("'Cause it's so brand new, baby") to shed her inhibitions and clothes to have sex with him—never mind that she might be hesitant to do so. "Girl, don't need to be nervous," Bruno sings. "Just go with it/ … And I will go real slow/ … It's our first time." He's apparently successful in his seductive attempts, because soon he's suggestively cooing, "Oh, girl, you're so delicious/Like ice cream on a sunny day/Gonna eat you up before you melt away."
Then he coolly assumes the role of shameless sexual predator on "Runaway Baby." "Well looky here, looky here," he leers. "Ah, what do we have?/Another pretty thang ready for me to grab/ … So many eager young bunnies that I'd like to pursue." That's followed by a not-so-subtle double entendre: "There's only one carrot, and they all gotta share it."
Bruno's breezy attitude toward sex shows up again on "The Lazy Song," where he daydreams about hanging around watching MTV before finding someone to hook up with: "Meet a really nice girl, have some really nice sex/She's gonna scream, 'This is great!" Other lazy-day activities include walking around his house naked ("I'll just strut in my birthday suit/And let everything hang loose").
The title of "Marry You" suggests something more romantic than what actually transpires. "We're looking for something dumb to do/Hey baby/I think I wanna marry you," it reads. "Is it the look in your eyes//Or is this dancing juice?/ … Who cares if we're trashed/ … Shots of Patrón/And it's on, girl." Bruno is equally blasé when it comes to the likelihood of this quickie marriage coming to a quickie end: "If we wake up and wanna break up, that's cool."
"Liquor Store Blues" speaks of staving off despair with whiskey and cigarettes, while a trio of singers on "The Other Side" (Bruno, plus Cee Lo and B.o.B.) tries to convince a girl to sample the forbidden pleasures of the night life. "'Cause this ain't Wonderland," B.o.B. sings, "It d‑‑n sure ain't Narnia/And once you cross this line/You can't change your mind."
In his profile article on Bruno Mars shortly after Doo-Wops & Hooligans was released in October 2010, New York Times contributor Jon Caramanica described him as "one of the most versatile and accessible singers in pop, with a light, soul-influenced voice that's an easy fit in a range of styles, a universal donor. There's nowhere he doesn't belong."
Intentionally taking Mr. Caramanica's assessment out of context, I'd argue there are plenty of places that Bruno's sometimes suggestive songs don't belong. And not taking Mars' lyrics out of context at all, I'll add that the singer himself is indeed a "wolf in sheep's clothing." So as for that question of balance: Despite a handful of "Aww, that's sweet" moments, Bruno's debut disappointingly proves to be a whole lot more hooligan than doo-wop.