A hitmaker for himself and for others, Bruno Mars is the nearest thing to a gold fund in the music industry right now. The 25-year-old Hawaiian (born Peter Hernandez) appears preternaturally attuned to the demands of daytime radio. He recently became the first act in 60 years to have UK number ones with his first three singles. If pop history is his playpen, he comes up with hooks as easily as a basketball star shoots hoops.
That very facility means he’s a master at spreading himself thinly on his debut album, Doo-Wops and Hooligans, which tips an ever-present fedora at vintage soul, reggae and even arena-rock styles.
At the second of two sold-out nights in London, though, sheer energy just about overrode such glibness. A trio of horn players choreographed dance steps with Mars and his bubbly backing vocalist, writing buddy and rapper, Philip Lawrence. With no more than bright lights and big smiles for effects, the 80-minute gig, operating on fast forward, had something of the zaniness of kids’ TV and a let’s-go-on-with-the-show chutzpah (no surprise – Mars was an Elvis impersonator aged six).
A brief take on the R&B standard “Money” segued into “Billionaire”, an all-too-contemporary index of aspiration. There was also a snatch of actual doo-wop (pay attention, class, that’s where the boy bands get it from). Michael Jackson poses were struck for “First Time”, obviously about more than just heavy petting. “Nothin’ on You” was strummed on ukulele, “Grenade” rocked-up to the point of unconscious parody.
Old-fashioned and eager-to-please, Mars is rather a chaste performer, and there was an old-fashioned innocence about the audience too. The shrillness of the screams testified to the youth of a crowd that included many pre-teens and their parents. Thus “The Lazy Song” became a school-holiday anthem.
January’s plea deal for drug possession has seemingly failed to taint Mars’s family-friendly image: he is a PG-rated Ne-Yo or Plan B without the street edge. His tortuous metaphors and smoochie sighs have nothing on the lyrical intelligence and emotional depth of Brill Building and Motown classics, but, hey, we are where we are.
“Just the Way You Are”, inevitably the arm-waving set closer, was sugary, apparently in earnest and wholly affirmative. I guess that’s why the girls love him.