A new song is finally atop the Billboard Hot 100, and for the first time in quite a while it isn't some internets propelled one-hit wonder. Maybe Macklemore (and Ryan Lewis, let us never forget Ryan Lewis) can come up with some other popular gimmick song, perhaps about all-you-can-eat buffets in Las Vegas, but I doubt it, and Baauer and the "Harlem Shake" will soon perish from this Earth. Now, an established artist with at least some gravitas has the nation's number one single, and it is the guy who had the top song before the one-two punch of "Thrift Shop" and "Harlem Shake." The man is Bruno Mars, but the song is not "Locked Out of Heaven." It's a new hit entitled "When I Was Your Man."
This was slightly encouraging news, as "Locked Out of Heaven" is actually a pretty good song, which is more than I can say about most of the number one hits I've heard during this endeavor. However, "When I Was Your Man" is a very different song. "Locked Out of Heaven" reaks of The Police and has plenty of energy. "When I Was Your Man" is a soulful piano ballad. This is, I imagine, very incongruous for a hit song. Most of these top singles are heavily indebted to dance music and computered generated beats and, occasional, vocals. This song is more or less just Mars and a piano. It's about four minutes of solemn crooning. You know, just what the kids like to hear on the radio.
As such, breaking down the instrumentation of this song is fairly simple. After all, it's just a dude and a piano. Mars' piano playing is fine. There are no flourishes to the song, but I feel that Mars was probably just looking for accompanyment for his vocals. It swells a bit when it needs to. On occasions, it reminds me of Jack White's "I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet) which is a good thing. Also, I know that song is from a White Stripes album, but I'm giving White all the credit on that one. I will fight you about this.
As you might expect, the song is about the ex-lover of the singer. Mars expresses regret as he assesses why things fell apart. He places the blame on himself, which makes sense. This kind of song would have felt odd if he was wailing about how it was the lady's fault. It also probably wouldn't be as popular. You know, "Locked Out of Heaven" is also about a man who isn't with the woman he wants. Way to build themes, Bruno Mars.
This song is bare bones. Mars sings with emotion, but not in a showy way. There are only a few vocal flourishes, including a bit of falsetto. It's adequate. The lyrics bounce between being substantive and sort of empty. Towards the end, he starts expressing how he hopes the woman's new beau treats her better than he did and it has some heft, which is good. On the other hand, he sings about how he should have given her flowers, and in order to rhyme naturally he brings up being able to talk to her for hours. You know who else sung about flowers and hours? Spin Doctors in "Two Princes." This is not a comparison anybody really wants.
"When I Was Your Man" may be an outlier for a hit song, let alone the top song on the Billboard Hot 100, but that makes it interesting, not necessarily good. It's a decent enough song. Have you heard a piano ballad about lost love before? Then you know exactly what this song is. There's nothing special to it, but there's nothing bad about it either really. It's very middle-of-the-road, solid but unspectacular fare. The piano sounds fine, but it's just a guy on the piano. The vocals are adequate. It certainly isn't unpleasant to listen to Mars sing. The lyrics are tolerable, if a tinge rote. I have no interest in hearing this song again, in part because I feel like I've heard it a bunch of times already. I know this is a not entirely fair dismissal, and this kind of bundling together of songs is usually inapt. I certainly am not saying this sounds exactly like a bunch of songs I've heard before. It's just close enough to make it feel insignificant and mildly generic.