Hy there, Radio Runts! We’ve reached that special time of year where I break my own rules, and write about a song not in the top 20 because I feel like it. So, who gets to follow in the footsteps of Willow Smith, Rebecca Black, and will.i.am?
For those of you just joining us, I have a love-hate relationship with Bruno Mars. The guy’s strength is in old soul, as evidenced by some of his better production/writing credits and guest spots, but his solo hits rarely made a great impression with me. What was even more frustrating was that there was plenty of evidence that Mars didn’t have to be this way. I’d much rather hear a full version of “Grenade” like this than the awkward recorded one, and I was downright disappointed at the studio version of “Runaway Baby” after hearing the song’s amped up Grammy version. Wouldn’t it be great if Mars could make his studio stuff sound as slick as his pompadour?
He did, and it’s called “Locked Out of Heaven”.
While Mars never sounded like he was chasing the radio on Doo Wops & Hooligans, he also never as blatantly throwback as he does on “Locked Out of Heaven”. Kicking off with some The Police-style guitars (after a gratuitous drum stick count-in to say “Look at how live this is!”) and basic bass and drums, the verses are catchy in a toe-tapping kind of way. The little “Ooh!’–wait, or is it “Uh!”?–at the end of each line is far less annoying than it should be, and adds some organic texture to the song.
But then the chorus hits, and it’s clear that “Locked Out of Heaven” isn’t an all-vintage affair. There’s a big of clean guitar hiding back there, but some dreamy, New Wave synths are brought to the front. But even these don’t slow the song down, since the drum beat picks up. It’s unexpected and a little graceless the first time you hear it, but between the synths and Bruno’s “You make me feel like/I’ve been locked out of heaven for too loo-ooo-oong”, it’s a surprisingly well-done and huge chorus.
The more I think about it, the less surprising “Locked Out of Heaven” sounds. Ever since “Nothin’ On You”, we’ve known that The Smeezingtons, Bruno’s production team, favors live sounding, percussion heavy, instrumentation in a pop-rock sort of setup. But songs like “Lighters” and “It Will Rain” proved that they could do sprawling songs outside of that framework. Add in that the other producers on “Heaven” include Jeff Bhasker and Emile Hayine who have worked with Kanye West, fun., Lana Del Rey, and Kid Cudi, and it’s no wonder that “Heaven” marries funk with pretty production with some sense of decency.
So, “Locked Out of Heaven”. That’s a kinda cool title. But what does it mean?
“Never had much faith in love and miracles” Well that’s no way to get into heaven.
“But swimming in your world is something spiritual/I’m born again every time you spend the night” I know I make fun of a lot of lyrics, but that swimming/born again bit is clever. It plays to the song’s spiritual theme, but isn’t too obvious about what the song me–
“Cuz, your sex takes me to paradise/Yeah, your sex takes me to paradise” Aaaaand just like that, the subtlety’s gone.
“You make me feel like/I’ve been locked out of heaven/For too long” Damn, Bruno, how good of a lay is this person? Referring to the sex as heaven’s not exactly unheard of, but damn is “locked out of heaven” a dramatic metaphor. Is there a chastity belt involved?
While we’re at it, I’m not sure metaphors/similes are a good fit for Bruno Mars. We all remember “Grenade”, right?
“You bring me to my knees/You make me testify/You can make a sinner change his ways” I don’t know how I made this leap, but now I’m imagining a gospel choir doing a stirring rendition of “I Just Had Sex”. I really wish I could will this into existence.
“Open up your gates ’cause I can’t wait to see the light” What “light” is he referr–never mind, I don’t want to know.
I really like this song. The music’s sharp, Bruno sounds fresh, and I don’t even mind the lyrics. Sure, it’s an “I wanna sleep with you” song, but the writing’s decent, and at least it doesn’t bullshit you with anything about “love”. Hell, one of my favorite songs from last year wasn’t this subtle; I can’t pretend to be all high and mighty against “Locked Out of Heaven”. I don’t think it’s just good for Bruno Mars, I think it’s a good song full stop. Hell, I might have to preorder Unorthodox Jukebox now.