1950s America saw the emergence of the “hooligan,” a troublemaker that was the bane of a society made of white picket fences, easy livin’, and doo wop groups that sang “Life Could Be a Dream.” In his debut album, Peter Gene Hernandez a.k.a. Bruno Mars manages to revitalize this time by both embracing and challenging the R&B he reveres like the hooligan he believes himself to be.
Born into a large and musical family in Honolulu Hawaii, Mars has been exposed to a variety of influences, all of which seem to find their way into “Doo Wops and Hooligans.” We can hear Elvis-inspired rock n’ roll, laid-back island reggae, retro-pop love songs, and ambient piano ballads. All the while, the vocal harmony and incessant beats of doo-wop rhythm and blues remains a constant theme. It is the versatility of his larger-than-life voice that allows him to transcend past the bounds of genres. And so, in “Doo Wops,” we enter the eclectic musical world of Bruno Mars.
We are launched full throttle from the start of the album, with his first single, “Grenade” and his second, the Billboard #1 single, “Just the Way You Are.” We hear the clear, soaring voice that the mainstream pop world first fell in love with on B.o.B.’s “Nothin’ On You.” There’s a sense of purity such that every young woman out there can feel like she’s swept into the stars, leading her to believe him when he sings, “Girl you’re amazing / Just the way you are.” Subtle, however, is the R&B undertone; with every crescendo into the chorus, one can hear the strain of soul.
Different elements of R&B are diffused throughout. “Our First Time,” has the smoother, intimate side with its slower, twinkling melody. Meanwhile “Runaway Baby” gets us into a retro-funk, with an upbeat mood and rock n’ roll beats. The 1950s mood continues into “Marry You,” a testament to the days of old sweethearts and devil-may-care dancing tunes. “Is it that dancing juice? / Who cares? / I think I want to marry you!” Although the lyrics are rather uninspired, Mars can get away with it because his voice is just that angelically clear, and his energy that boyishly charming.
In fact, his distinct and powerful vocal ability allows him to get away with just about anything on this album. “The Lazy Song” and “Count on Me,” are lyrically and musically more different—out of place, even. He sings about chillin’ in his “snuggie,” clicking on MTV, and “not doin anything.” Think Mars on Travis McCoy’s “Billionaire”—light and playful with simple guitar strums in the background giving an island feel. This carefree island air also makes its way into “Liquor Store Blues,” featuring reggae artist. Damien Marley. Again, such a move feels out of place. However, Mars then brings us back into an R&B vibe, but this time, with an electro twist, on the ballad, “Talking to the Moon.”
The album ends with “The Other Side,” featuring contemporary hooligans B.o.B. and C-Lo Green. He sings, “I’ll be waiting on the other side,” and indeed, with the futuristic, synthesized rock n’ roll beats, he seems to be in a new realm of musical style.
Although in parts, “Doo Wops and Hooligans” can seem unfocused, the songs seem to blend mellifluously because Mars’s voice is out of this world, allowing him to ascend above the technical elements and the distinctions of genres. He doesn’t forget to pay tribute to his beloved classic-era R&B, but he also makes room for the sounds of the present. There is diversity in Mars’s musical universe and he may one day have the power to shape the trajectory of R&B in the future.