A couple years ago, when Usher had effectively vacated his King of R&B throne, there were a number of artists lined up to seize the crown: Ne-Yo, Chris Brown, Trey Songz, but my favorite underdog pick was Mario. Although he didn’t have the dance moves or instant name recognition as some of his peers, Mario was an excellent songwriter with a stellar voice who had the potential to alter the R&B landscape with one great album. Just as I predicted, Mario’s third album Go was not only damn good, it was the work of a …
Fans can also check out Mario's previous albums: Mario - Go
DJBooth Album Review
Fast forward to 2009 and Mario’s new album D.N.A. has just arrived in my mailbox. Chris Brown is out of commission (for now). Trey Songz’ new album just wasn’t getting the job done. “Could this be it?” I wondered as I put D.N.A. into my stereo. “Could this be the moment Mario fulfills his potential and claims the crown?” After one listen to the album the answer was clear: ummm….well…not really. On D.N.A. Mario seemingly undergoes a serious musical genetic mutation, taking his usually organic R&B sound and placing it squarely into the clubs. The result is an electronically soaked album that should be his most commercially successful so far, but also drowns out some of the soul that makes him so compelling in the first place.
Case in point; D.N.A.’s lead single Break Up, a damn catchy track that’s his most successful to date - and it’s easy to see why. Producer Sean Garrett and A Milli creator Bangladesh construct a hypnotizing track that interweaves sparse production and lush melodies, giving Mario a sonic template to show off the full range of his vocal abilities. I keep waiting for Break Up to get old but, shockingly, it hasn’t yet. I do, however, have one problem with Break Up, and it’s a major one: Gucci Mane. Well, not Gucci specifically, but more broadly Mario’s insistence on putting mediocre rappers on his singles (he did the same thing on Go). Mario could get any rapper alive on the track – Weezy, Luda, Kanye - and he goes with Gucci? Really Mario? Really? And that’s not the only example on D.N.A. Before She Said Hi is a darkly winding cut that Big Sean detracts from with a punchline heavy flow. It’s a good verse, just not here. Simply put, Mario may have changed his sound, but he hasn’t completely changed his D.N.A., even his bad habits.
But I digress. Let’s get back to the really important stuff – Mario’s new sound. . Although fans who swooned over his acoustic ballad How Do I Breathe will be disappointed, overall Mario’s new found focus on the clubs works well. Although Get Out’s pounding bass and claps at first sound like a lost cut off Jock Jams, by the time you hit the chorus you’re completely mesmerized by the densely layered synths and Mario’s grown man heartache. On the same tip is the beautifully minimalistic I Miss My Friend, a cut that successfully relies on some sparse percussion and Mario’s emotional delivery to carry the song (although he does randomly take a shot at Kelly Clarkson. Hopefully she’ll respond with a freestyle). On the flip side, when Mario’s new approach doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work. The bouncy Thinkin About You’s euro-house style feels uninspired at best, and Mario responds with some lackluster vocals and lyrics: he not so romantically declares he wants a girl for “no particular reason.” And although Ooh Baby is supposed to be D.N.A.’s baby maker, it’s far too clunky to inspire any real heat between the sheets.
So where does that leave us? It leaves us with D.N.A., an album that finds Mario expanding as a musician, but not necessarily evolving. If only he could find a balance between the two styles. If he could inject some classic R&B style into the overly produced Soundtrack to My Broken Heart, it could have been beautiful. And if he brought his new found club appeal to the corny Choose You it could have been a smash (though I’d probably still think of The Simpson’s Ralphie saying “you choo-choo-choose me?” every time the chorus hit). So while D.N.A. might not be the album I was hoping for, it might just be the stepping stone Mario needs to finally take that leap into R&B’s elite circle. So if we’re back here in another two years declaring Mario the new King of R&B, we’ll all know who saw it coming. I’d love to say I told ya so.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 10/13/09
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