In an exclusive preview, the platinum hitmaker unveils his wide-ranging second album, "Unorthodox Jukebox"
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Like his debut, "Unorthodox Jukebox" scales the broad landscape of Mars' musical influences. Ten tracks previewed to Billboard ranged in style, containing elements of rock, pop, soul, R&B, funk, electro, reggae, doo-wop, disco and more. As many in Mars' camp agree, the new songs are much deeper and more evolved than what's featured on "Doo-Wops." Some may be surprised to find him trading in lighthearted pop songs like "Just the Way You Are" and "Grenade" for sexed-up rockers like "Gorilla" and "Moonshine." Ever the charmer, though, Mars will surely make female fans swoon with piano ballad "When I Was Your Man" and the anthemic "Young Girls."
He's proud of his success with "Doo-Wops," which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and has sold 1.7 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. In addition to chart-topping singles, the set garnered multiple Grammy nominations and a best male pop vocal performance win for "Just the Way You Are." He admits, however, that the completion of Doo-Wops was rushed in an effort to capitalize on the fast-building momentum of "Nothin' on You" and "Billionaire," which reached No. 1 and No. 4, respectively, on the Hot 100 in 2010.
| Harper Smith
Bruno Mars + Billboard
Now, Mars had the luxury of time. It allowed him to create a musically rich follow-up that dives deeper into his sonic palette and fully demonstrates his artistry.
"I had to change lanes from hustling trying to be a producer and songwriter for other acts. So I was writing a lot of pop songs and radio-friendly songs. It was a different mind-set," Mars says of his debut. "When I worked on ["Doo-Wops"], maybe that trickled off into my stuff and I didn't really have a chance to custom-make the sounds and sonics that I wanted to do. On this one, you're going to feel a little more me and what I stand for."
It was during his last two years of countless worldwide concerts and TV shows -- including his unforgettable moment earlier this year at the Grammys in Los Angeles -- that Mars realized his second album needed to reflect his raucously energetic stage show. To achieve a fuller sound on the new release, he recruited some of his favorite producers, including Ronson, Bhasker, Haynie, Diplo and the Supa Dups. The Smeezingtons, who co-wrote and co-produced all of the tracks, also serve as the new set's executive producers.
Upcoming touring plans are still being ironed out, as are details of the overall marketing campaign for "Unorthodox Jukebox." But Mars is expected to begin touring in second-quarter 2013, according to his manager, Brandon Creed. The trek is tentatively scheduled to launch in Europe and then visit North America in the summertime.
Mars explores some darker, edgier lyrical themes on "Unorthodox Jukebox." In true rock 'n' roll fashion, he references drugs, sex and alcohol in the slithering standout "Gorilla." Midway through the stadium rocker, Mars defiantly belts out the word "motherfucker." It's a noticeable departure from the softer subject matter of his past material ("I'll be lounging on the couch just chillin' in my Snuggie/Click to MTV so they can teach me how to Dougie," he sings on 2010's "The Lazy Song"). Mars points out, however, that on an alternate version of "Billionaire," he sings, "I want to be a billionaire so fuckin' bad" (on the cleaner version he says "frickin'"). Nevertheless, he acknowledges the mature new themes as further evidence of his newfound artistic freedom.
"They made me change a couple of things on [Doo-Wops] and I felt disgusted about that. I didn't do that on this album," Mars says. "If I can't be me doing it, I'm not going to have any fun. If I'm changing things around because people might think it's a hard pill to swallow -- like, 'Wait a minute, this isn't the Bruno we know' -- then I'm going to feel like a circus clown onstage, selling something fake."
Mars also proudly boasts that "Unorthodox Jukebox" doesn't include a single guest vocal from another artist. This may come as a surprise to some since Mars built his career early on by appearing on other artist's tracks. "It's my fucking album. It should just be me, right?" he says with a laugh.
Back at Larrabee Sound Studios, Mars further reflects on his musical metamorphosis during the past two years. When the subject turns to how some critics (he hates them, by the way) have suggested that "Just the Way You Are" and some of his other romantic songs were overly sappy, the singer gets playfully defensive.
"If you can't hear the sentiment, as sappy as you want to call it, then maybe you're a piece of shit," he says, that devilish grin reappearing.
He pauses a moment to think.
"But if I was getting sappier we'd have a problem," he continues. "Then it would just be mush."