Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Bruno Mars – When I Was Your Man

Bruno Mars is good at being Billy Joel but bad at being your boyfriend.


Iain Mew: Glumly pretty, but it’s difficult to see who he’s actually singing it for. His ex is long past caring, and if he really is as philosophical and gracious as he presents himself then there’s no stakes in it for him either. The weird switch from second person to third person and back exacerbates the problem.

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Here’s my Bruno Mars Problem: Mars strikes me as an incredibly polished performer with a gaping hole where the reason for listening to him should be. He likes hats! He smiles a lot! He referenced Snuggies on a hit single! But beyond his general likability, there’s not much else but unimaginative approximations of other artists’ MTV heydays and a reliance on the Smeezingtons’ dunderheaded approach to every note. There’s a line or a piano flourish that may stir the mind momentarily, but it’s lacking the brio to make a lamentation like this worth listening to. It was a better song when it was called “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word,” too.

Alfred Soto: After impressing many people with a New Wave knockoff, he returns to his Billy Joel roots, although not the Joel of “A Matter of Trust.” Do girls like flowers anymore? I thought Miguel told us they prefer drugs.

Will Adams: Bruno never identifies the true problem of the relationship. Instead he runs down a list of coulda-shoulda-woulda’s that are besotted with cliché. Perhaps that’s the point, but the possibility of him sweeping her actual wants under the rug is unsettling. Lovely vocals, though.

Patrick St. Michel: It took a while, but I’ve finally come around to “Locked Out Of Heaven.” Those hiccuping “ehs” and the quick tempo have made me drop any reservations brought on by the song’s at-times eye-rolling metaphors. Bruno Mars’ latest is a plodding ballad with the sort of sad-sack lyrics tailored for a post-breakup montage in a romantic comedy. Give me all the groaners from “Locked Out Of Heaven” over the boring realizations here. 

Doug Robertson: Bruno Mars is a man who seems intent on living in the past. Musically the nearest he gets to a modern reference point is Maroon 5, while lyrically he likes nothing more than wallowing in an old-fashioned viewpoint, here using this piano-driven apolo-ballad to lament that he didn’t follow the traditional rules of romance — flowers, chocolates and some money to buy yourself something pretty — in a now dead and gone relationship. His audience will, of course, lap this up like a hungry cat in front of a bowl of the world’s most saccharine cream, but it’s not just cream that rises to the top. I think we’d all be happier, Bruno included, if he actually was from the past, rather than tainting the here and now with his pointless presence.

Brad Shoup: Even his demos are going top-ten. The Voice-ification of piano pop continues apace.

Jer Fairall: Brandon Flowers aside, no current pop performer has anything like the cheeseball conviction of Bruno Mars — the mistaking of the hoary for the classic that, for all of its wrongheadedness, is mercifully free of irony or cynicism. When he latches onto an indelible hook–the one that propels B.o.B.’s “Nothin’ On You,” the ebullient jaunt of “Marry You”–the results can be charming, but more often they are worthy of the eye roll that quickly follows the initial grin of recognition. “When I Was Your Man” isn’t all that memorable; it sounds like an impression of what Elton John or Billy Joel sounded like during their 70s heyday that forgets Bernie Taupin’s rarely remarked upon lyrical complexity or Joel’s dorky good humor. But in Mars’ sentimental yet unadorned piano playing, heart-on-sleeve delivery and even in his inventory of the simple things that he thinks constitute being a good boyfriend lie the mark of a true believer.

Katherine St Asaph: Unorthodox Jukebox he may call it, but the task of reverse-engineering this mope is orthodox enough. Bruno Mars, the man, read that story about Adele’s “Someone Like You” being the first solo piano chart-topper; I bet he listened to some Don Henley while collecting album inspirations, too. Bruno Mars’ character is the sort of Nice Guy who’s old-fashioned as a consequence of not really knowing how modern dating works (it’s telling that his first two regrets are not buying flowers or hand-holding; one is cheesy, one is standard), who got dumped and has spent the couple days since cultivating a certain festering masochism disguised as enlightenment. (“My pride, my ego, my needs, and my selfish ways caused a good strong woman like you to walk out of my life” is about one second away from a misandrist screed. From a dude.) Bruno Mars’ label has no doubt realized the appeal, starting with “Nothin’ On You,” of music so insistently sexless or beatless to certain types; Bruno may be ambivalent, but something’s got to offset the album’s risky-jaunty period stuff. There are just two things I don’t get. One, what’s the Miike Snow guy doing here? And more importantly: who the hell did this guy date where her name would sound like “ooooooo”? Uma Thurman?

Edward Okulicz: Mars’ overwhelming conviction to his art has really only worked for me on “Grenade,” when his feeling it to ridiculous extents was married to a ridiculous lyric sheet. The lyrics to “When I Was Your Man” are so mundane it’s hard to tell if he’s ticked about losing the girl or ticked about just not being with someone period. He’s not longing, and he’s not giving us quality self-laceration either. Making the specific (i.e. a song about one’s break-up) about the universal (all our break-ups and losses) is harder than it sounds.

Anthony Easton: Maybe she broke up with you because you are a passive-aggressive whiner?

Reader average: [4.66] (9 votes)

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6 Responses to “Bruno Mars – When I Was Your Man”

  1. Terrific, guys.

  2. The comments listed above could be applied to knock the works of the Beatles, Stones, the American Songbook, and most of today’s artists. They are made by people who for the most part are trying to be “clever” in their criticism.

    Fortunately, no one pays attention to reviewers, who basically are music wanna-be’s, with no actual musical ability or technical reference point to base their point of view on.

    Bruno will continue to sell well, and you all can continue to knock him to your hearts content.

    Larry White
    Grammy Nominee and Conductor

  3. with no actual musical ability or technical reference point to base their point of view on

    Praise Jesus we have Actual Grammy Voters to educate us on structural stuff like “what about the Rolling Stones” and “his records sell” and “you’re totes jelly”.

    Great work, everybody: it’s a Jukebox classic.

  4. People will continue to read these reviews because they are wonderful, and you can go back to award squander boast that plundered into irrelevance a good 6 years ago.


  6. But what about Nice Guy reference points? I have a lot of those!