Bruno Mars an unlikely contender in Grammys

By Chris Shores

Check out other reviews of Grammy nominated albums: Adele rolls into deep success with ‘21’ | Grammys for Gaga | Rihanna gets ‘Loud’ with nominations | ‘Wasting Light’ not a waste of time

While no one should deny that Bruno Mars’ meteoric rise has been impressive, it doesn’t mean that people are lining up to catch a grenade for him.

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The 26-year-old Hawaiian native – who in 2011 collected seven Grammy nominations and one win – is vying for six more Grammy victories this coming Sunday. No category looms larger than the award for Album of the Year; his October 2010 album “Doo-Wops & Hooligans” is one of five nominees.

If Mars does score the big victory Sunday night – and let’s be clear about this, with Adele as a competitor, it would be considered a major upset – it will be a milestone in the award’s history. Sure, Taylor Swift won in 2010, but the award has never gone to a mainstream 21st century pop artist of Mars’ magnitude and radio airtime.

Five singles – literally half of “Doo-Wops & Hooligans” – have hit international radio waves and have been immersed into the ears and minds of both willing and unwilling listeners. “Just The Way You Are” introduced the masses to Mars, and “Grenades” caused many to despise him. “The Lazy Song” got stuck in America’s head, while “Marry You” and “Count On Me” wooed international audiences.

“Doo-Wops” is overrun with corny clichés – lyrics that occasionally flirt with being downright bizarre in their earnestness.

Many music listeners have already had great fun mocking Mars’ pledge in “Grenade” to “throw my head on a blade for ya [and] jump in front of a train for ya.”

But what about in “Our First Time” when Mars’ serenade attempt includes rhymes like “Treat you like a princess, girl you’re so delicious / Like ice cream on a sunny day, gonna eat you before you melt away.” Or in “Count On You” where he soulfully sings out, “You can count on me like one, two, three / And I know when I need it I can count on you like four, three, two.”

Mars has actually seen great success as a songwriter. He co-wrote Flo Rida’s “Right Round,” B.o.B.’s “Nothing On You,” Cee Lo Green’s “F*** You” and Travis McCoy’s “Billionaire.”

So if his goal is to pen No. 1 hit after No. 1 hit, well then Mars has been immensely successful. But the lyrics of “Doo-Wops” – especially those of the singles – make it difficult to take the album seriously.

And that fact is unfortunate for Mars because “Doo-Wops” actually has an impressive musical range.

On “Marry You,” there’s no denying Mars’ vocal talent, as he skillfully navigates his voice above a rising crescendo of electronic beats and percussion. When he peaks at the chorus, there are church bells there to meet him – a cleverly arranged track that carries the beat forward while also fitting perfectly with the theme.

Then, Mars takes it down a notch for “Talking To The Moon.” It’s a song that depends as much on the somber piano track and background harmonies as it does on the mournful and powerful lead vocal performance.

“Liquor Store Blues” – a duet with Damian Marley – is a surprising reggae addition to the album. But it’s extremely effective; the best two minutes of the entire album come from a Marley rap, followed immediately by a reggae guitar solo and another grief-stricken and passionate Mars chorus.

And the album’s other collaboration – “The Other Side” featuring Cee Lo Green and B.o.B. – seems more like a Cee Lo song that Mars is featured in. But maybe that’s Mars’ point; he’s as much of a songwriter as he is a performer, and he’s still willing to step out of the spotlight.

It’s these hidden tracks – coupled with Mars’ decision to try out a new style on practically every song – that may very well be the reason “Doo-Wops” scored a nomination. But the overplayed singles and corny lyrics overshadow the musical quality “Doo-Wops” has to offer.

With 13 Grammy nominations in the past two years, Mars has become one of the heavy contenders of the music awards season. But it’s unclear of whether the hit singles will be enough to woo voters into giving him the top prize.

Or perhaps there’s a better way to phrase this. Despite the interesting instrumentation, the catchy lyrics that get stuck in listeners’ heads and the true vocal talent that Mars possesses, can “Doo-Wops & Hooligans” really ever belong in the same category as “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Rumours” or “The Joshua Tree”?

If the answer is yes, and Mars wins on Sunday, it will indeed be a milestone in Grammy history.

Chris Shores can be reached at [email protected]