Half an Hour of party tunes that sound like the best bits of ‘90s R&B: 3.5 / 5

It’s good to remember the improbable things in life. For example: “Uptown Funk” vocalist and animatronic sequined suit Bruno Mars once sang the words “loungin’ on the couch just chillin’ in my Snuggie.” Every part of it is retroactively bizarre: the idea that Mars, the embodiment of the ‘hardest-working man in showbiz’ cliche, once attached himself to something called “The Lazy Song,” that he once released music in 2010 that sounded like 2010. And now he goes for the risque move of remaking ‘90s classics for people who were probably not born in the decade. He trips but manages to pull himself up for another stunner: 24K Magic.

In a year when fellow musicians Drake and Kanye West have released sprawling, overlong albums while Beyoncé accompanied hers with a 60-minute film, this record’s brevity feels refreshing. 24K Magic features just nine songs and a fat-free 33-minute running time. There’s not even a deluxe edition with extra tracks. Although 24K Magic is shorter than any Stooges record, Bruno Mars still wears a lot of hats: giddy uptown-funk savant, bumping-and-grinding R&B time-traveler, Ashford & Simpson-esque quiet-storm balladeer. Keeping his third album short is also ballsy. After all, Bruno Mars isn’t just trying to match 2010’s ‘Doo-Wops & Hooligans’ and 2012’s ‘Unorthodox Jukebox’—both multi-platinum chart-toppers—but also globe-conquering Mark Ronson collaboration ‘Uptown Funk.’ But instead of going from genre to genre in pursuit of hits, Mars has crafted something compact and cohesive that feels like a proper album. In a year when we’ve seen Linkin Park jump into full fledged pop to stay popular, Mars sticks to his roots and succeeds.

While his funk game is strong and swagger even stronger, Bruno’s acclaimed hook-writing (which has garnered four Number Ones for himself and tons of co-writes on other chart-toppers) has seemingly taken a backseat. If it’s intentional, it scans as cloying; if it’s accidental, it scans as lazy. ‘Versace on the Floor’ is the umpteenth tribute to Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’ in an era that didn’t even need them from Wiz Khalifa, Nelly, Wale or Kygo. Lead single ‘24K Magic’ is already drooping its way back down the charts and it’s not impossible to understand why when compared to the sugar-coated bombast of ‘Uptown Funk’ or ‘Locked out of Heaven.’ “I’ll rent a beach house in Miami / Wake up with no jammies,” he winks playfully on ‘That’s What I Like,’ but fails to capture the swagger that made ‘Uptown Funk’ such a hit.

In spite of these misgivings, it’s hard to stay mad at 24K Magic for long. Few albums designed to sound like a party actually play like one; Bruno Mars has pulled it off with style. If ‘Uptown Funk’ was a sliver of theme-park version of funk, 24K Magic is the rest of the park: rebuilt shinier, glitzier and safer, every element engineered to please, with a hell of a tour guide. It’s not history, not even historical fiction, but harmless fun.

24K Magic may not be the most glittering display for Bruno Mars the pop star, but fans can rest assured it is a shining moment for Bruno Mars the producer, arranger, and nostalgia curator.