Bruno Mars makes everything sound easy.
His debut "Doo-Wops & Hooligans" showed that he would catch a grenade for ya, jump in front of a train for ya and, eventually, he wants to marry you. But all that genre-jumping smoothness does make you wonder where his musical heart really lies.
Mars' new album "Unorthodox Jukebox" (Atlantic) won't answer that question. In the space of 10 songs, Mars hops from pop to doo-wop to reggae to funk and back again -- creating a jukebox of styles in his own image.
He plays the part of a lovelorn Sting in the sweaty rock ode to The Police, "Locked Out of Heaven." He savvily channels Michael Jackson in the rock-R&B hybrid "Moonshine." And he captures a No Doubt-ish reggae lilt on "Show Me."
Mars' profile reached a new level recently when he hosted "Saturday Night Live" and showed off his impressive ability to impersonate a wide range of artists. In a way, he does that here as well, rather than actually baring his own emotions and desired musical direction.
The best moments on "Unorthodox Jukebox" come when Mars lets his guard down. The gorgeous guitar-driven R&B of "If I Knew" is a wonderful old-school surprise, while the shimmering '80s funk of "Treasure" is pure fun. However, it's the touching piano ballad "When I Was Your Man" that shows how effective Mars can be as a straightforward singer, when he lets himself be a little vulnerable. Perfect-sounding pop is never as interesting as some true, messy emotion.
BOTTOM LINE Too many styles, not enough heart