Bruno Mars Comes Out to Play in New Album 'Unorthodox Jukebox'

PHOTO: Bruno MarsJames Mooney/Courtesy of Atlantic Records
Bruno Mars releases his sophomore album, Unorthodox Jukebox, on Dec. 11, 2012.

He's never been one to follow trends, and on his sophomore album, Unorthodox Jukebox, Bruno Mars has more than enough confidence to admit that all he wants to do is play.

And when you're a self-contained unit like he is – he writes, sings, produces, and plays multiple instruments – well, it would be a sin not to have some fun with this. Give Mars a beat and a fedora and he's good to go.

Whereas his 2010 debut album Doo-Wops & Hooligans had co-opted the words "radio-friendly hit" and exhibited a great degree of sentimentality (c'mon, man, you'll really catch a "Grenade" for me?) Mars has let the bad boy in him loose here – it's a side we've always known was there.

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Highlights on the naughty side of the jukebox include "Natalie," where he puts a "gold-digging bitch" on blast, and "Gorilla," where he sings of a booze-and-drugs fueled night and making love to a ladyfriend, primate-style – hair-pulling and cursing and all. The song leaves you craving a Bruno Mars-Miguel collabo, badly.

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But like all the great pop musicians that came before him, Mars understands mood, and that there is a time and a place for certain songs. On the nice side of the jukebox there's "When I Was Your Man," a pretty piano-backed ballad where Mars does what he does best – wear his heart on his sleeve. "I shoulda bought you flowers and held your hand/Shoulda gave you all my hours, when I had the chance/ Taken you to every party cause all you wanted to do was dance/now my baby's dancing, but she's dancing with another man," goes the perfectly tight hook.

That 27-year-old Mars sounds this confident on his latest album should come as no surprise – at this point, artists like Alicia Keys are asking him to write songs with them ("Tears Always Win," off her new album Girl on Fire). Plus, he's been studying the masters long enough. If you haven't seen this video of him as a four-year-old impersonating Elvis, please do yourself a favor and watch it now. Unorthodox Jukebox is Mars' tribute to his favorites, from Michael Jackson ("Treasure," which is delightfully disco-fied) to The Police ("Locked Out of Heaven"). Mars also ventures into new territory on this album, as on the reggae-flavored "Show Me."

As on his first album, Mars kept most of the production in-house with his trio The Smeezingtons, and when he does invite outsiders in, like Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt on "Moonshine," the result just isn't as exciting. It's possible that no one can keep up with what's going on inside the head of this musical nerd better than Mars himself.

Mars will perform some new tracks and talk about the making of Unorthodox Jukebox on MTV First tonight at 7:55 pm EST.