TERRY GROSS, host:
Bruno Mars is a 25-year-old singer-songwriter and producer who has worked on hit singles for numerous hip-hop and R&B artists. His real name is Peter Hernandez and he grew up in Hawaii. He was a child when he appeared fleetingly as an Elvis impersonator in the film "Honeymoon in Vegas."
Rock critic Ken Tucker says Mars' new album, "Doo-Wops and Hooligans," shows just how much he has grown up.
(Soundbite of song, "Just the Way You Are")
Mr. BRUNO MARS (Musician): (Singing) Oh, her eyes, her eyes, make the stars look like they're not shining. Her hair, her hair, falls perfectly without her trying. She's so beautiful, and I tell her every day. Yeah, I know, I know, when I...
KEN TUCKER: Bruno Mars is the man of the moment, and a man who wants to be timeless. His debut album, "Doo-Wops and Hooligans," has yield a number one hit single, "Just the Way You Are," and he's co-produced recent hits for artists ranging from Cee-Lo Green to Travie McCoy. He's appeared on "Saturday Night Live" and already undergone his first career scandal: a September arrest for alleged illegal-drug possession. For all this, he still sounds like some kind of angel.
(Soundbite of song, "Grenade")
Mr. MARS: (Singing) Easy come, easy go, that's just how you live. Oh take, take, take it all but you never give. Should of known you was trouble from the first kiss had your eyes wide open. Why were they open?
Gave you what I had and you tossed it in the trash, you tossed it in the trash, you did. To give me all your love is all I ever ask because, what you don't understand is I'd catch a grenade for you. Yeah, yeah. Throw my head on a blade for you. Yeah, yeah. I'd jump in front of a train for you. Yeah, yeah. You know I'd do anything for you. Yeah, yeah. Oh whoa, oh. I would go through all the pain, take a bullet straight through my brain. Yes, I would die for you baby, but you won't do the same.
TUCKER: Mars sings with the sort of serene assurance that both excites and puts you at ease. It's the voice of a young pro, an entertainer fully in command of his phrasing. It's hard to resist the clever come-on refrain of the song I just played, I'd catch a grenade for you. What girl could resist such a promise, especially when it comes swirled inside such a creamy melody? Mars is one of the most potent examples of the current movement to restore rhythm-and-blues crooning to a prominent place within hip-hop beats. He also creates songs that break free of any sort of easy category, such as the urgent pop-rock-soul of "Runaway Baby."
(Soundbite of song, "Runaway Baby")
Mr. MARS: (Singing) Ah, yes. Oh looky here, looky here, ah what do we have? Another pretty thing ready for me to grab. But little does she know that I'm a wolf in sheep's clothing, because at the end of the night it is her I'll be holding.
I love you so. Hey. That's what you'll say. That's what you'll say. You'll tell me, baby baby please don't go away. Don't go away. But when I play, I never stay. I never stay. To every girl that I meet here, this is what I say.
Run, run, runaway. Runaway, baby, before I put my spell on you. You better get get get away, get away darling because everything you've heard is true. Your poor little heart will end up alone, because Lord knows I'm a rolling stone. So you better run and run runaway, runaway baby.
TUCKER: When he appeared on "Saturday Night Live" recently, Bruno Mars sported a blue dinner jacket and a pompadour that made him like the leader of Little Anthony and the Imperials. Given Mars' obvious knowledge of the whole history of American R&B, I wouldn't be surprised if that reference was intentional. After all, in addition to impersonating Elvis in his little kid, family-band days, he's also imitated Frankie Lymon and Michael Jackson. One song here, "Marry You," can be heard as Bruno Mars' salute to '60s girl-group pop.
(Soundbite of song, "Marry You")
Mr. MARS: (Singing) It's a beautiful night, we're looking for something dumb to do. Hey baby, I think I want to marry you. Is it the look in your eyes, or is it this dancing juice? Who cares baby, I think I want to marry you.
Well, I know this little chapel on the boulevard we can go, no one will know. Well, come on, girl. Who cares if we're trashed got a pocket full of cash...
TUCKER: Mars has created a number of hit singles for other artists as a part of the Smeezingtons, a production team consisting of Mars, Philip Lawrence and Ari Levine. One of the benefactors of his talent, Cee-Lo Green, returns the favor by singing with Mars on "The Other Side," a surging ballad that sounds like a space-age anthem. Not for nothing did the man born Peter Hernandez adopt the last name Mars.
(Soundbite of song, "The Other Side")
Mr. MARS: (Singing) I've been waiting on the other, waiting on the other side.
Mr. CEE-LO GREEN (Musician): (Singing) We would live forever. Who could ask for more? You could die if you wanted, but baby what for? It's better if you don't understand. And you won't know what it's like until you try.
Mr. MARS: (Singing) You know I, I've been waiting on the other side for you...
TUCKER: With his sweet smile and aggressive talent, Mars is no shy flower. He's positioning himself to become a new prince of pop - maybe even a king. "Doo-Wops and Hooligans" is such an impressive, varied and intense experience, it makes you wonder whether he can sustain it. These are some of the most pleasurable worries you can have about a new star. They're worries that, if they have occurred to Bruno Mars, have been dismissed as he gets on with the work of just creating more pleasure.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed Bruno Mars' new album "Doo-Wops and Hooligans."
You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org.
(Soundbite of song, "Our First Time")
Mr. MARS: (Singing) Don't it feel good, babe? Don't it feel good, baby? Because it's so brand new, babe. It's so brand new, baby.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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