Among the writers credited in in the album credits of 24K Magic, one name stuck out in particular: James Fauntleroy. While his name recognition may only go as far as a few feature credits on To Pimp A Butterfly for a casual music listener, the work of his that should really be of note in this case is his co-writer credit on every single song on Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience.
There are some apt comparisons to be made between 20/20 and 24K, like how they are both the artists’ best records, but the most significant is the similar persona both Timberlake and Mars adapts on their respective records. Both artists transition from playing the role of your run- of-the-mill lover boy to a suave sex deity with an old-school flair.
While that does sound like something that would come across as incredibly lame and cringe-worthy if it were played completely straight, the levels of confident hedonism shown get so absurd that they have to be interpreted as self-aware. Lines like “You need activate your sexy” that are delivered in the exaggeratedly sensual way that they are signifies at least some sense of self-consciousness from Mars.
The tongue-in-cheek manner of 24K Magic doesn’t come across as some kind of Lonely Island parody though. Mars has an obvious passion for the music laid onto the record, as he sounds confident and swagger-filled across the entire record compared to the scarce single where he’d give his audience a sneak peek at how charismatic he could really be. Mars is just as entertaining on funky, energetic cuts like “Chunky” and “Finesse” as he is on ballads like the passionate, sexually charged “Versace On The Floor,” which is a first for any Bruno Mars album.
The sheer enjoyability of most of the songs on 24K does have a lot to do with some wonderful performances from Mars, but the production steals the show more than once. Instead of The Smeezingtons, who have taken the reins on production on the last two Mars projects, newcomers Shampoo Press & Curl come out of nowhere and deliver some of the best production to grace a mainstream pop record since, well, The 20/20 Experience.
However, while 20/20 thrived on its lushness, expansiveness, progressiveness, 24K Magic succeeds as a compact, straightforward joyride of a pop record. 24K is a melting pot of various styles of contemporary R&B from across the decades with a modern-day face lift. From the old-school funk of “Perm,” where Mars kills it as a modern-day James Brown, to the new jack swing-esque drum patterns on “Finesse,” to the quintessential ‘90s slow jam of 2016, “Versace On The Floor,” every sound Mars and Press & Curl play with goes over swimmingly.
Nowhere is the combination of Mars’s irresistable charisma and Press & Curl’s wonderful production more of an unstoppable force than the lead single and title track. Much akin to “Uptown Funk,” “24K Magic” features a braggadocious Mars strutting his stuff and throwing out quotable after quotable with his hypemen keeping the energy of the track up. Behind Mars is a grade-A electro-funk instrumental with some great vocoder talkbox that reminds me of g-funk. In a year that has has failed to live up to the standards 2015 set when it comes to the pop charts, “24K Magic” is a diamond in the rough.
Bruno Mars always had the potential to make a great full record. His sophomore effort, Unorthodox Jukebox, had some absolutely stellar singles like “Locked Out Of Heaven” and “Treasure” that unfortunately shared space with a lot of bland, disposable songs that dragged the album down considerably.”Uptown Funk,” which ended up being the 12th biggest song in Billboard’s 45+ year history, proved yet again that Mars was a personality to be reckoned with when he hits his stride.
That stride has finally been fully met on 24K Magic. Mars is consistently on point with his vocal performances and his songwriting chops, and Shampoo Press & Curl have breathed new musical life into his career. Mars has now joined the likes of Justin Timberlake, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Ariana Grande by going past just the essential singles and have made a full record that could be considered essential listening for music fans of any variant. 24K Magic may be a record that lives in the past, but the Bruno Mars’ musical future hasn’t looked this bright in a long, long time.