Grammys night. It’s an odd time of year when the who’s who of the entertainment biz get together to slap each other on the back, have a little awkward boogie to each other’s tracks and smile graciously when they get runner-up to each other’s better songs and albums. There are the inevitable faux pas like Rihanna turning up with an abuser-of-note on her arm, Katy Perry’s boobs threatening to overwhelm the entire purpose of the evening’s events and Frank Ocean trying to make up some banter about imagining the audience naked. But there are also impressive performances (not least the awards show’s host LL Cool J teaming up with Tom Morello, Chuck D and Travis Barker for an explosive finale) and, for tonight anyway, impressive choices from the Grammy industry insiders who chose, for the most part, to reward excellence even when it went against the popular grain. Almost as predictable as the plunging gowns and stiffly rehearsed intros is the prospect of an all-in, cross-genre collaboration to honour someone or something. The Elton John-led tribute to the Newtown shooting victims was evocative and fitting. And then there was Bruno.
Bruno Mars is a bit of an anomaly in the pop world. As a producer with The Smeezingtons, he helped create one of the best pop songs of the last few years before parlaying his production success into a burgeoning solo career that, with the release of ‘Unorthodox Jukebox’ in December last year, isn’t showing any signs of slowing up soon. While ‘Doo-Woops & Hooligans’ had a couple of real doozies – ‘The Lazy Song’ and ‘Marry You’ are true B-sides, filler that should never have been released as singles – it also spawned tracks that defined a couple of years; tracks like ‘Just The Way You Are’ and, to a lesser extent, ‘Grenade’, have elements of legitimate songwriting which suggest they might leave a more lasting legacy than much of the other puffery released on the regular. ‘Locked Out Of Heaven’, which opened a tribute to Bob Marley which featured, naturally, Sting, Ziggy and Damian Marley and, unnaturally, Rihanna, falls squarely into the second of those two camps. Bruno Mars writes a lot of junk and a lot of fluff but when he’s on, the man knows how to turn on the talent tap. Alternative contender to the pop throne or not, when you have Sting up on stage singing your verses and it comes out sounding right, you’re on to something.
Much of the criticism in the OAD house surrounding this song on its release centred on the notion that it was Bruno Mars ripping off a proud lineage of rock-reggae artists and history without so much as a perfunctory tip of the fedora to Sting, The Police or indeed Bob Marley himself. While I’ll admit that the trip down memory lane struck me as fairly arbitrary – reggae has been dwarfed in the pop world in recent years by the resurgence of folk and the emergence of EDM – it also impressed me as a bold move. ‘Locked Out Of Heaven’ might sound like any number of reggae fusion tracks that came before it (as tonight’s medley performance proved, with this song segueing seamlessly into ‘Walking On The Moon‘ and then on into ‘Could You Be Loved‘ but its appeal lies in the fact that nobody else has attempted to revive the mood in recent, retrograded history. It might be derivative but it is freshly derivative and in a pop world where ideas go stale quicker than you can say ‘autotune’, that counts for something. So yes, apart from the climbing, slightly irritating synths on the chorus, this track could have originated in the late 70s/early 80s and Mars’ videographer patently wanted it to have but that is no reason to find fault with ‘Locked Out Of Heaven’. Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery but that doesn’t make it easier to pull off. Bruno’s got my vote next time around.
Bruno Mars – Locked Out Of Heaven