BOTTOM LINE Three excellent bangers, six changes of pace, only a few missteps
Let’s get straight to the point: On Bruno Mars’ third album, “Perm” most resembles “Uptown Funk,” his inescapable 2014 smash with Mark Ronson. It comes and goes in a swish, showing off Mars’ talents for call-and-response bandleading, recalling James Brown one second and The Time the next. “It’s my birthday!” Mars declares.
“No, it’s not!” returns the house-party chorus.
Mars’ album opens with three of these retro-funk-turned-contemporary anthems, including the title track (which pays tribute to “the hustlers and gangstas” among others), “Chunky” and “Perm.” All are essential, pristinely produced by Shampoo Press & Curl, full of whooping and throwaway proclamations.
Then it downshifts into something different, still constructed around Mars’ impeccable falsetto and unyielding enthusiasm, recalling the changes of pace on classic Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder albums. “Versace on the Floor” is built on ringing, Stevie-style synths, and even though the title gives the punch line away, it’s still exciting when Mars coos it out loud: “Let’s close our eyes and close the door / oh, I love that dress, but you won’t need it anymore.”
“Too Good to Say Goodbye” recalls the polished romance of Jackson’s “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” closing the album with a Mars self-duet, screaming and testifying in perfect voice.
A 33-minute album has little room for filler, but Mars and his production team (which may or may not be a variation of the Smeezingtons, his longtime collaborators) manage a few inessentials. “Straight Up & Down” is a leering pickup ballad, “Calling All My Lovelies” is mostly notable for a voicemail by actress Halle Berry, and “Finesse” doesn’t really go anywhere after its retro new-jack-swing beat. But these are small blotches on an album engineered for maximum joy.